Marian Wright Edelman was born June 6, 1939, in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Her parents had five children in total with Marian being the youngest. Her father, Reverend Arthur Jerome Wright, died when young Marian was only 14 years old. Before he passed, Reverend Wright instilled in Marian that teaching Christianity requires public service.
Separate But Equal
Subject to the Separate but Equal clause of the constitution, Wright attended a racially segregated school. In spite of solely having access to inadequate educational materials, Wright was an excellent student. She graduated and enrolled in courses at Spelman. As a result of her outstanding academics, Wright landed scholarships to study abroad in various foreign nations.
Civil Rights Movement
Because she was able to travel to foreign countries, Wright decided to build a career in Foreign Service. As the Civil Rights Movement gained more momentum, however, Wright found herself in the midst of the action. After participating in sit-ins, in Georgia, in 1960, she was arrested. She then decided to study law. She graduated from Yale Law School three years later in 1963.
Not long after graduating from Yale, Wright landed a job with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense team. In 1964, she moved to Mississippi in order to encourage voter registration in the Black community. There, she became the first Black woman to be admitted to the Mississippi State Bar.
After representing several civil rights activists during the Freedom Summer voting campaign, Wright represented the Child Development Group in Mississippi. She lobbied for the funding of the Head Start program and was successful in doing so. She had found her passion; fighting for children’s rights.
In 1967, Wright met Peter Benjamin Edelman. Wright moved to Washington with Edelman where they married and had three children. Peter Edelman was a prominent policymaker which gave Marian Edelman the platform to introduce her work with Mississippi’s lower-income communities to a larger political arena.
Edelman founded the Washington Research Project for the Southern Center for Policy Research in 1968 in order to lobby for impoverished children. By 1971, she was named one of the top 200 young leaders of America by Time magazine. In 1973, she founded the Children’s Defense Fund, which focused on preventing abuse, teen pregnancies, and advocated for healthier lifestyles.
At the age of 79, Marian Wright Edelman has stepped back from practicing law for the most part. She continues to lecture, however, and has a number of books published. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Bill Clinton in 2000. She later received the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism and a MacArthur Genius Award.
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