Marian Wright Edelman (born June 6, 1939) is an American activist for the rights of children. She has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. She is president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF).
|Marian Wright Edelman|
Marian Wright Edelman
June 6, 1939
Bennettsville, South Carolina, U.S.
|Occupation||Children's rights activist|
|Organization||Children's Defense Fund|
|Spouse(s)||Peter Edelman (m. 1968)|
Presidential Medal of Freedom
(Full list below)
Marian Wright was born June 6, 1939 in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Her father was Arthur Jerome Wright, a Baptist minister, and her mother was Maggie Leola Bowen. In 1953, her father died of a heart attack when she was 14, urging in his last words, "Don't let anything get in the way of your education."
She attended Marlboro Training High School in Bennettsville, where she graduated in 1956 and went on to Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Due to her academic achievement she was awarded a Merrill scholarship which allowed her to travel and study abroad. She studied French civilization at the Sorbonne University and at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. For two months during her second semester abroad she studied in the Soviet Union as a Lisle Fellow. In 1959 she returned to Spelman for her senior year, and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1960 she was arrested along with 14 other students at one of the largest sit-ins at the Atlanta City Hall. She graduated from Spelman as valedictorian. She went on to study law and enrolled at Yale Law School where she was a John Hay Whitney Fellow, and earned a Juris Doctor in 1963.
Edelman was the first African American woman admitted to The Mississippi Bar. She began practicing law with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund's Mississippi office, working on racial justice issues connected with the civil rights movement and representing activists during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. She also helped establish the Head Start program.
Edelman moved in 1968 to Washington, D.C., where she continued her work and contributed to the organizing of the Poor People's Campaign of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm, and also became interested in issues related to childhood development and children.
In 1973, she founded the Children's Defense Fund as a voice for poor children, children of color, and children with disabilities. The work of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) primarily revolves around its teen pregnancy prevention program. The organization has served as an advocacy and research center for children's issues, documenting the problems and possible solutions to children in need. She also became involved in several school desegregation cases and served on the board of the Child Development Group of Mississippi, which represented one of the largest Head Start programs in the country.
As leader and principal spokesperson for the CDF, Edelman worked to persuade United States Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected. As she expresses it, "If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time."
She continues to advocate youth pregnancy prevention, child-care funding, prenatal care, greater parental responsibility in teaching values and curtailing what she sees as children’s exposure to the barrage of violent images transmitted by mass media. Several of Edelman's books highlight the importance of children's rights. In her 1987 book titled, Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change, Edelman stated, “As adults, we are responsible for meeting the needs of children. It is our moral obligation. We brought about their births and their lives, and they cannot fend for themselves.” Edelman serves on the board of the New York City based Robin Hood Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty.
During a tour by Robert Kennedy and Joseph Clark of Mississippi's poverty-ridden Delta slums in 1967, she met Peter Edelman, an assistant to Kennedy. They married on July 14, 1968. Edelman and her husband, now a Georgetown law professor, have three children: Joshua, Jonah, and Ezra. Joshua is an educational administrator; Jonah works in education advocacy and founded Stand for Children; Ezra is a television producer and director who won an Academy Award for his documentary O.J.: Made in America.
Monday, February 22, was a dreary day by all accounts, with grey skies and bouts of sometimes heavy rain. But inside the Marian Wright Edelman Public Library, it was a different story: bright and warm, with an air of excitement that anyone could feel. Monday was opening day for the new library.