Marian Wright Edelman

Photo credit: Clair Popkin, 2017

Born June 6, 1939

Marian Wright Edelman is a lawyer and civil rights activist, and a leading US advocate for children’s rights. Born in Bennettsville, South Carolina, she earned an undergraduate degree from Spelman College in 1960, and a law degree from Yale University in 1963. In 1964, she left her position on the legal defense team of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to organize voters and advocate for civil rights in the South. She was the first African American woman to pass the bar in Mississippi in 1964, where in her private practice she defended civil rights advocates, including members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and was instrumental in framing the Poor People’s Campaign, for which she acted as cousel. In 1969, she developed the Washington Research Project to research and advocate for low-income families, and in 1973, she founded and became acting President of the Children’s Defense Fund. She received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1985, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000. She also received a Robert F Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her multiple prize-winning publications and books about her work in civil rights and children’s rights.


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