His passion is telling the story of Nannie Helen Burroughs. Quite frankly, I had not heard of her.
Colonel Wyatt has created and fostered the Nannie Helen Burroughs Project, which can be seen at his website.
Born in Orange, Virginia, Burroughs arrived in the nation’s capital in 1883. Dreaming of helping others, she went to work and founded an industrial school for girls in 1909. The National Training School for Women and Girls rose up in the Deanwood neighborhood in NE DC (601 50th Street). Renamed the Nannie Helen Burroughs School, it is a private coeducational elementary school.
Burroughs had made bold headlines at the turn of the century by giving a speech (“Hindered from Helping”) at the National Baptist Convention. In 1915, The Washington Post published her essay titled “The Negro Woman’s Opportunity.”
Burroughs spoke many times at conventions and the like. Scholars would later call Burroughs and her counterparts — Mary McLeod Bethune among them — pioneers of a “womanist consciousness.”
It was never easy for them. Even in the nation’s capital, where some progressive voices could be heard, the specter of Jim Crow rose every morning. When Burroughs came to bat, she had two strike against her - being both a black person and a woman.
Colonel Wyatt took a similar path. Born in Norfolk, he would have surely seen “Colored Only” signs and knew where black folk could and couldn’t go. Like Burroughs, his career was buoyed by education and training. He rose to the rank of a colonel in the U.S. Army. In 2010, Wyatt founded the Nannie Helen Burroughs Project.
The National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington added a Trades Hall in 1928. In 1991, the building earned the highest honor and status - a National Historic Landmark.
As the nomination form notes, the school “uniquely brought together a combination of educational opportunities for young black women and girls.”
The school's motto was “We specialize in the wholly impossible,” which became the title of a book about these pioneer educators and civil rights activists. Burroughs’ counterparts included Mary McLeod Bethune, whose historic home is in the Logan Circle neighborhood.
A historical marker in Deanwood touches on Burroughs and features an image of her. Deane Avenue was renamed Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue.