Edelman, Marian Wright

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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During her career, MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN has appeared in Mississippi jail cells, Capitol Hill offices, and on TV talk shows, with the same objective: to help poor or disenfranchised U.S. citizens. Best known as the founder and president of the CHILDREN'S DEFENSE FUND (CDF), Edelman is a lawyer, lobbyist, author, and mentor to former first lady, now U.S. senator, HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON. Edelman began her

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career as a CIVIL RIGHTS attorney in the Deep South during the 1960s. While working on voter registration campaigns?and keeping demonstrators out of jail?Edelman vowed to do something about the plight of children in the United States. Improving children's lives seemed like a logical starting point for improving all of society. By the mid-1990s, Edelman's influence extended from day care centers to the Oval Office as she helped shape the future for the youngest citizens of the United States.

Edelman was born June 6, 1939, in Bennettsville, a small, segregated town in South Carolina. Her father, Arthur Jerome Wright, was a Baptist minister, and her mother, Maggie Leola Wright, was the director of the Wright Home for the Aged. Named after singer Marian Anderson, Edelman recalls a childhood of hard work and high expectations. She was an outstanding student whose parents instilled in her a strong sense of purpose and social awareness. Edelman's parents extolled the virtues of self-reliance and personal initiative, and lived their own counsel when they established the Wright Home, the first African American residence for elderly people in South Carolina. Edelman's parents founded the nursing home because they saw a need and felt obliged to fill it. Given the example set by them, it is no surprise that Edelman chose a life of self-directed social activism.

After high school, Edelman attended well-respected Spelman College, in Atlanta. Edelman planned a career in the foreign service and took preparatory courses at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and at the University of Geneva, in Switzerland. After spending a summer in Moscow, Edelman returned to the United States for her senior year at Spelman. Before long, she was caught up in the emerging CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. After a campus visit by MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., and considerable soul-searching, Edelman dropped her plans for the foreign service and joined other African Americans in the struggle for equal rights.

To make herself more valuable to the movement, Edelman...

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