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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Children’s Defense Fund founder speaks at UM

Marian Wright Edelman, a nationally known advocate for disadvantaged children, spoke at UM in conjunction with Women’s History Month, Black History Month and the Opening the Closed Society Initiative. Edelman is founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), whose 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 discussed education, race and her greatest passion — children.

“Let us end poverty,” she said. “But let us start with childhood poverty.” Quoting statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Edelman explained that “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

The 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.

“We were very fortunate to have this lifelong advocate for disadvantaged children and civil rights, and author on our campus,” said Chuck Ross, director of African American studies and associate professor of history.

As a leading force with the Poor People’s Campaign, Edelman worked with Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. to empower impoverished people from the Mississippi Delta. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children’s Defense Fund, served as director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University, and began CDF in 1973. Edelman’s numerous accolades include the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

“Given that the focus of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies’ celebration of Women’s History Month 2012 was issues of race, gender and rights, it was 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 Isom Center.

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