Marian Wright Edelman
June 6, 1939
|Occupation||Children's rights activist|
|Organization||Children's Defense Fund|
|Children||3, including Jonah and Ezra|
Marian Wright Edelman (née Wright; born June 6, 1939) is an American activist for civil rights and children's rights. She is the founder and president emerita of the Children's Defense Fund. She influenced leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
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. Marian's father encouraged her education before he died, after a heart attack in 1953, when she was 14.
She went to Marlboro Training High School in Bennettsville, where she graduated in 1956, going 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 77 other students during a sit-in at segregated Atlanta restaurants. 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 Bachelor of Laws in 1963. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
Edelman received an honorary doctorate from La Salle University in May 2018.
Edelman was the first African-American woman admitted to The Mississippi Bar in 1964. 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.
Edelman was elected the first Black woman on the Yale board of trustees in 1971.
In 1973, she founded the Children's Defense Fund as a voice for poor children, children of color, and children with disabilities. 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." Under Edelman's leadership, the CDF also worked on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
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.
In 2020, Edelman became president emerita of the Children's Defense Fund, and Starsky Wilson began to head the organization.
October 6, 2021, Mariam writes, “we must reject any leaders who for any reason play political football with our children’s lives and our nation’s future” continuing to further advocate for children.
Edelman is a member of The Links.: 105
During Joseph S. Clark's and Robert F. Kennedy's tour of the Mississippi Delta in 1967, she met Peter Edelman, an assistant to Kennedy. They married on July 14, 1968, as the third interracial couple to marry in Virginia after the state's anti-miscegenation laws were struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States in Loving v. Virginia. 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.