Meet Marian Wright Edelman, the first African-American woman admitted to The Mississippi Bar. Born in 1939 on June 6, she is the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and helped to form the Washington Research Project. In addition, she helped to establish the Head State program. Edelman has devoted her professional life to advocating for disadvantaged Americans.
Edelman, then Wright, graduated from Spelman College as valedictorian. While a student at Spelman, she was awarded a Merrill scholarship, which made it possible for her to travel and study abroad.
It was when she returned to the states in 1959 that she became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, she was one of 15 students arrested at one of the largest sit-ins at the Atlanta City Hall. In 1963, she graduated from Yale Law School with a Juris Doctor degree.
After law school, Edelman worked on racial justice issues that were connected with the Civil Rights Movement via the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Mississippi office. As follows, she represented activists during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964.
After relocating to Washington, D. C. in 1968, Edelman worked for the Poor People’s Campaign. She became increasingly interested in children’s issues.
As stated on its website, the mission of the CDF, which Edelman created in 1973, is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. The CDF has served as an advocacy and research center for issues impacting the lives of children by documenting the problems of children in need and providing possible solutions.
Edelman has received numerous awards and distinctions for her service, inclusive of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. She has advocated before Congress on behalf of children who have been disabled, neglected, abused, and homeless.
As Edelman states in her 1987 book, “As adults, we are responsible for meeting the needs of children. It is our moral obligation. We brought about their births and their lives, and they cannot fend for themselves.”
Edelman’s life illustrates her belief in it being a moral obligation to care for children. Seeing so many deficits in this area and being unsatisfied, Edelman has devoted most of her professional life to serving in this way. She has stated, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time.”
An obligation we may have, but do we have the courage?
Keisha Bell is an attorney, author and public servant. To reach Bell, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to www.emergingfree.com to view more of her work.