Marian Wright Edelman
Children’s Advocate : b. 1939
Marian Wright, the youngest of five children, grew up in Bennettsville, South Carolina, where her father was a Baptist minister. In 1960 she graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta; three years later she had a law degree from Yale.
The first black woman to be admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson.
In 1968, she moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as counsel for the Poor People’s Campaign organized by Martin Luther King Jr. That same year she married Peter Edelman, a former assistant to Robert F. Kennedy whom she had met during her years in Mississippi. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and parent body of the Children’s Defense Fund which she established in 1973. As founder, leader and principal spokesperson for the CDF, Mrs. Edelman worked to persuade Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are handicapped, homeless, abused or neglected. A philosophy of service absorbed during her childhood undergirds all her efforts: “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.”
If the world does not always seem ready to follow her example, it has, at least, accorded her many honors and awards. She has received the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, a MacArthur Foundation prize Fellowship, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2000), and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings. She is the author of seven books, including: Families in Peril: An agenda for Social Change; The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours; and I’m Your Child, God: Prayers for Our Children. She holds 65 honorary degrees.
She continues to advocate youth pregnancy prevention, child-care funding, prenatal care, greater parental responsibility in teaching values, and curtailing children’s exposure to the barrage of violent images transmitted by mass media.