Children’s Defense Fund Founder to Speak Feb. 21 at UM

Posted on: February 7th, 2012 by benita
Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman

A nationally known advocate for disadvantaged children will speak at the University of Mississippi.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, lectures at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for Performing Arts. Free and open to the public, the event is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture’s Future of the South Symposium, the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies as part of Women’s History Month, Black History Month and the Opening the Closed Society Initiative.
Under Edelman’s leadership, the CDF has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families. The Children’s Defense Fund’s Leave No Child Behind mission is to ensure every child a healthy, fair, safe, moral start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta and Yale Law School, began her career in the mid-1960s when, as the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson.

“‘As a part of the 50th anniversary of integration of our university, which is a yearlong celebration, I would encourage everyone to attend the talk of Marion Wright Edelman, the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar Association,”‘ said Chuck Ross, UM director of African-American studies and associate professor of history. “We are very fortunate to have this lifelong advocate for disadvantaged children and civil rights, and author on our campus.”

In 1967, Edelman was one of the main forces behind the Poor People’s Campaign, working with Robert Kennedy to encourage impoverished people from the Mississippi Delta to make new demands on the government. The following year, she moved to Washington, D.C., as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign, working with Martin Luther King Jr. on that project until his death. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children’s Defense Fund. For two years, she served as the director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University, and in l973 began CDF.

“‘Given that the focus of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender’s Studies celebration of Women’s History Month 2012 is on issues of race, gender and rights, it is a privilege for us to have the opportunity to hear from one of the women who has led the struggle to secure rights for the most vulnerable members of our society,”‘ said Susan Grayzel, interim director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies.

Edelman is the author of numerous books discussing issues of childhood, education and justice. In recent years, she has turned toward memoir, writing “The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours” (HarperCollins, 1993) and “Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors” (Beacon Press, 1999).

She has received more than 100 honorary degrees and many awards, including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings

She is a board member of the Robin Hood Foundation, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Association to Benefit Children, and is a member of the Selection Committee of the Profiles in Courage Award of the John F. Kennedy Library, the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

She is married to Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown Law School. They have three sons, Joshua, Jonah and Ezra; two granddaughters, Ellika and Zoe; and two grandsons, Elijah and Levi.