cover of book

The Third Door: The Autobiography of an American Negro Woman
by Ellen Tarry
introduction by Nellie Y. McKay
University of Alabama Press, 1992
eISBN: 978-0-8173-8905-5 | Paper: 978-0-8173-0579-6
Library of Congress Classification E185.97.T37A3 1992
Dewey Decimal Classification 973.04960730092


Ellen Tarry was born in 1906 in Birmingham, Alabama. While attending a Catholic school in Virginia during her teens, she joined the Church. She returned to Alabama to attend college at Alabama State Normal School for Colored in Montgomery and then taught in the Birmingham Public Schools from 1924 to 1926.

In pursuit of her dream of becoming a writer, Tarry moved to New York, where she worked for black newspapers and became acquainted with some of the prominent black artists and writers of the day, particularly Claude McKay and James Weldon Johnson. Her devotion to the church found expression in social work activities, first in Harlem, then in Chicago, and, during World War II, in Anniston, Alabama, where she directed a USO for black soldiers stationed at Fort McClellan. Tarry wrote several books for young readers, including biographies of James Weldon Johnson and Pierre Toussaint. She continued her social work career after the war and now lives in New York.

Devoid of pronounced racial markings, Tarry’s interactions with white Americans were not characterized by fear or distrust. But when her own brown daughter was subjected to racial discrimination she wrote The Third Door in 1955 to tell America about the plight of her people. With prose that is both moving and powerful, Tarry relates her life against the background of a changing American society. She still awaits the third door, designated neither “white” nor “colored,” through which all American will someday walk.
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