Activist Spotlight: Marian Wright Edelman

Welcome to our first Activist Spotlight! Each month, we’ll blog about an amazing activist. Have suggestions for a contemporary superstar we could highlight? Leave us a comment, or email us at!

Maria Wright Edelman

This month, we’re celebrating the activist life of Marian Wright Edelman. In the mid-1960s, after graduating from Spelman College and then Yale Law School, Edelman became the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar! She also directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in Jackson, Mississippi; Edelman parlayed her law degree into a career as a passionate and effective foot soldier in the struggle for civil rights in the South. In 1968 she moved to Washington, D.C., but did not leave the struggle behind. In D.C., she provided legal counsel for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.

Edelman was, from the very start of her career, deeply invested in improving children’s lives. After two years at the helm of Harvard’s Center for Law and Education, barely a decade after women could first receive Harvard diplomas, Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Under her able leadership, the CDF analyzes how government policies affect children and families from all racial and income backgrounds. It then works to build bipartisan support for policies that help children receive the education, medical care, and nutritional support they require to break the cycle of poverty.

Edelman has advocated for vulnerable, disadvantaged children and families throughout the course of her life as a lawyer. Her example inspires us to be a constant voice for the causes we believe in, and to continually strive to build a better life for everyone in America.

An editorial aside from a History major writing about an obscure civil rights activist: I did not choose Marian Wright Edelman for our February Activist Spotlight because she is African American. Yes, February may be Black History Month, but I believe that the contributions of all Americans should be celebrated and taught each month. All of us, and all of our groups, have together woven the tangled tapestry of American history.


3 thoughts on “Activist Spotlight: Marian Wright Edelman

  1. Thank you for that dose of “What have you done lately?” Lili. Very inspiring.
    It is always nice to hear about those that were behind the scenes. I am saddened, however, that I was unaware of this wonderful woman’s existence before reading this post. What are we teaching our middle-schoolers these days? How about a little less George Washington and a little more Marian Wright Edelman… and similar figures. Too often we are led to believe that those that were great orators due to their vocal gospel presence, or fantastical beings that never graduated high school but served time in jail and educated themselves were the only ones getting things done while the highly educated either hide behind their paychecks or sought to talk it out.
    That being said, it is important to note that of the prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement who are now household names that indeed were highly educated and highly active, many were women.
    Thank you to the Angela Davises and the Marian Wright Edelmans of the world who took pride in the attainment of their multiple degrees as well as their valiant effort in the war against oppression.

  2. sbobadilla

    Marian Wright Edelman’s career is really quite impressive–both for its longevity and mired of accomplishments! Her example of using her elite education for organizing and activism serves as a reminder that our responsibility as Harvard students is to do more than just to help ourselves.

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