Her Story: Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman – Lawyer, social activist, and premier children’s rights advocate in the United States. She founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973, whose mission is to advocate nationwide for child health, education, welfare, and family support systems.

Born in South Carolina in 1939, Marian Wright Edelman was named after the great African American contralto Marian Anderson. She grew up during the era of Jim Crow laws that mandated that African Americans be segregated, or separated, from white people. Her father, a preacher, instilled a passion to right the wrongs in the world around her and he encouraged her to pursue an education.

After completing high school, Marian Wright Edelman attended Spelman College in Mississippi and graduated as valedictorian in 1960. From there she went to law school at Yale and became the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi State Bar (1963). She joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a lawyer and directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Jackson, Mississippi (1964-68). She also became nationally recognized as an advocate for Head Start at this time.

Edelman has served as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University and is the first African American female to have been on the board of directors of Yale University.

She founded Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), the United States’ leading advocacy group for children, and has authored several books during her lifetime. In 2000, Marian Wright Edelman received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writing.

We honor Marian Wright Edelman for her tenacity, passion, and advocacy skills, as she leads the way to change. She Made History.

“You just need to be a flea against injustice. Enough committed fleas biting strategically can make even the biggest dog uncomfortable and transform even the biggest nation.”

– Marian Wright Edelman

Sources and Links:

Edelman’s books include Children Out of School in America (1974), Portrait of Inequality: Black and White Children in America (1980), Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change (1987), The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (1992), Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors (1999), and Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations for Our Children (2000).

About The Author


Mother, Photographer, Wisecracker.... not necessarily in that order.

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