At 79, Activist Marian Wright Edelman Keeps Fighting For What’s Right

By KK Ottesen

Marian Wright Edelman, 79, has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire career. She founded the Children’s Defense Fund 46 years ago and serves now as its president emerita. She was the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi bar and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.

You have been at this work for a long time. Can you talk about what led you to it?

Everything I do comes from my childhood. I grew up in a small segregated Southern town in South Carolina. But we were clear that the outside world should not define who we were internally. We always had books in our home, even when we didn’t have a second pair of shoes. We always knew about the great black role models. And my parents instilled a sense of service. Their bottom line was, God runs a full-employment economy. And if you just look at the need and ask what you can do, you’ll never lack for something meaningful and purposeful in your life. All I’ve done is follow the need.

I was surprised to learn you’d almost studied Russian literature instead of law.

In my sophomore year [at Spelman College], Howard Zinn nominated me for a Merrill scholarship. That was such a gift. I went to study at the Sorbonne in Paris and then Geneva. It gave me the opportunity to see what it felt like to really be free. I wanted to go back to Europe and study 19th-century Russian literature.

Source: The Washington Post

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