Marian Wright Edelman is a children’s rights activist, lawyer and educator. Born on June 6, 1939 in Bennettsville, South Carolina, her father was a Baptist preacher, who taught Marian and her siblings the value of education. He passed away when Marian was 14, and his dying advice to Marian was not to let anything stand in the way of her pursuit for education. Marian studied at Marlboro Training High School in Bennettsville. She then enrolled at Spelman College, where she received the Merrill Scholarship to study abroad. She traveled to the Soviet Union, where she became a Lisle fellow. She returned to the U.S. in 1959, where she actively became involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
Deferring her plans to enter the Foreign Service, but political events in the country made her change her direction. During her student days, Marian had been an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. She attended protests against racial segregation at City Hall and was arrested on one occasion. This made her realize that she could bring about a positive change in the socio-economic status of African Americans.
Marian Wright Edelman then decided to study law, and was accepted at Yale University. As a student at Yale, Marian was actively involved in a project to register African American voters in Mississippi. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1963, after which she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She first worked in New York for the NAACP Legal and Defense Fund, and then moved to Mississippi. In Mississippi, she became the first African American woman to be admitted to the Bar Association and practice law. After leaving the NAACP, she was employed at the Child Development Group in Mississippi. Here, she became deeply involved in securing government funding for the Head Start Programs. Working for children’s causes became the focus of the rest of her career.
While working in Mississippi, Marian met Benjamin Edelman, who was then working as an assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The two were married within a year, and had three sons together. The couple moved to Boston, where Edelman worked as the vice president of the University of Massachusetts, whereas Marian was a director at the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University. She was named as one of the top 200 young leaders in America by Time Magazine in 1971.
In 1973, Marian founded the Children’s Defense Fund, which was an organization working to improve the quality of life for poor children. The CDF had a number of agendas, such as preventing teenage pregnancy, child abuse and drug abuse, and helping children to remain healthy and acquire a good education. The family moved again, this time to Washington D.C., where Edelman joined the faculty of Georgetown University and Marian continued to expand the reach of the CDF. She was on good terms with Hillary Clinton, but refused to take a government position, as she preferred to operate independently.
Marian Wright Edelman continues to tour, lecture and spread awareness. Her public awareness campaigns have garnered widespread support throughout America. She has written books, including “Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change” in 1987 and “The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours” in 1992. She remains one of the most respected and influential social activists in America.