Tate's biography is included in numerous publications, including Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the United States, Who's
Who Among American Women, Men and Women of Science, Who's Who in Southeastern United States, International Who's Who, British
American Writers, Two Thousand Women of Achievement (London, 1972), Who's Who Among Colored Americans, and Who's Who Among
in the Mid-West.
to the Negro History Bulletin 1998, upon entering Oxford University in 1932, Merze Tate paused to ponder her future. Merze
did it in a vein not unlike the British poet Milton expressed in one of his famous sonnets. Though considering "what before
me lies," she also indicated an admirable sense of ethnic pride and a strong devotion. Tate was a distinguished scholar in
European and diplomatic history and a role model struggling to prove the evilness of prejudice.
persons have ever achieved the high level of distinction like Merze Tate. She was the recipient of numerous awards, a few
of which are listed as follows: National Urban League Achievement Award, 1948; Radcliffe College Alumnae Association Graduate
Chapter Medal for Distinguished Professional Service, 1953; Louis Knott Koontz Memorial Award for the most deserving article
published in the Pacific Historical Review, 1963; Michigan's Isabella County's Most Distinguished Citizen, 1969; Western Michigan
University Distinguished Alumni Award, 1970; Award for Outstanding Work in the Field of Historical Research and Publication,
Bridge-Builders, 1973; Graduate Student Council Award "for outstanding contribution to Howard University graduate education,"
1975-1976; Spirit of Detroit Award, "for substantial efforts toward the betterment of Detroit as an attractive and refreshing
community in which to work, live and play," 1978; the (Detroit) Mayor's Award of Merit, "on behalf of the citizens of Detroit,
for significant and valued community activities and continued interest in improving the quality of life in Detroit," 1978;
the American Black Artist's Pioneer Award, 1978: the Radcliffe College Alumnae Achievement Award, 1979; life membership (the
only woman) in the Prometheans and the Promethean Plaque of Honor, for "outstanding and dedicated service in perpetuating
the goals and ideals of the Prometheans, Inc.," 1980.
Merze Tate was
born on February 6, 1905, in the middle of a blizzard. The country doctor who lived in nearby Blanchard, MI could not drive his horse and sleigh
through the 20 plus inches of snow.. Consequently, a German neighbor, Mrs. Vernie Fisch, officiated at the delivery, leaving
the rest, including the medical examination and the preparation of a certificate of birth, for the physician who managed to
get through the next day. Completing the birth certificate for the Isabella County files, the county clerk inadvertently recorded
the new arrival as a "white female," thereby causing a minor complication some years later when Merze Tate applied for a passport
to study in Geneva and to travel in western Europe.
By the time Merze
was five years old, the log school buildings in the county had been replaced by frame, one-room structures, not painted red
but a creamy white, with a belfry and spaced approximately four miles apart on surveyed dirt and gravel roads, which meant
that no child generally had to walk further than two miles to school. Merze attended Rolland Township Elementary School Number
Five, located on a one-acre corner of her parents' farm and less than one-quarter mile from her home.
in Michigan's elementary schools was not limited to the three R's, but included geography, history, horticulture, orthography,
and physiology. Dr. Tate recalls that her geography books were illustrated with fascinating pictures of the Acropolis, the
Great Pyramids of Cheops and the Sphinx at Giza, the Cape of Good Hope, Victoria Fall of the Zambezi River, the temples of
Siam and Cambodia, Mandalay, Singapore, Hang Kong, Zanzibar, Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji Islands, Niagra Falls, the Grand
Canyon, the "Old Faithful" geyser in Yellowstone National Park, the huge redwood trees in California, and the Christ of the
Andes, which prompted her to dream dreams of seeing those "far-away places with strange-sounding names."
visions of extensive travel were coupled with strong aspirations to emulate the didactical pursuits of her sister Thelma (ten
years her senior), who had earned a diploma from Central Michigan Teachers College, had taught in two different elementary
schools for a while, and later passed the Civil Service examination for a clerical position in the U.S. Post Office in Detroit.
completion of her basic educational program, Merze, like all other elementary school graduates desiring to attend the high
schools in Michigan, was required to pass a state examination. At age 13 she entered Blanchard High School to which she walked
she walked over four miles each way, at times wading in snow up to her hips and water over her ankles. The long walks to and
from Blanchard High were never dull or solitary. They were enlivened with observations of nature en route and the everchanging
activities and colors of the seasons. Merze seemingly shortened the journey by reciting Thomas Gray's "An Elegy Written in
a Country Churchyard;" some of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales;" William Ernest Henley's "Invictus" and parts of his "England
My England;" sections of the Declaration of Independence; and Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."
In 1927, she graduated first in her class from Western Teachers College in Kalamazoo, where she became the first African-American
to earn a B.A. Racial prejudice and Jim Crow practices kept Tate from finding a teaching position in Michigan. However,
in 1928 she was hired to teach history at Crispus Attucks
High School, a newly opened facility for African American
students in Indianapolis. Merze earned her Master's degree at Columbia University in 1930. By 1932, she had entered
Oxford University, where she earned the Litt.D. in 1935. Her major field of study was international relations.
Afterward Tate began an illustrious college teaching career that spanned more than forty years in historically Black institutions. She began with the position of dean of women at Barber College in North Carolina. From there she became the chair of social science at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 1941, Tate became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D.
in government and international relations from Harvard University, writing her dissertation on U.S. disarmament policies. The following
year she joined the faculty at Howard University, where she served for thirty-five years.
In her sophomore
year, Blanchard High was destroyed by fire, and the classes were moved temporarily to the community churches. Since the makeshift
school did not have laboratories for science, its students could not qualify for college entrance and were, therefore, graduated
from the tenth grade. The youngest and only colored, Merze Tate, was named valedictorian.