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Marian Wright Edelman

“If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.” 1Marian Wright Edelman – Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund

Marian Wright Edelman

When Marian Wright Edelman was 14, her father, just before his death, said “don’t let anything get in the way of your education.” The teen from Bennettsville, South Carolina, heeded her father’s dying words. She graduated from Spelman College and continued her studies as far away as the Soviet Union as a Lisle fellow.

Ms. Edelman had planned on entering the Foreign Service. However, her activism in the Civil Rights movement beckoned her to stay in the United States. She decided to dedicate her life to helping others, using law as a fulcrum for change. She received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 1963.

Ms. Edelman moved to Mississippi and became the first African American woman to pass the Mississippi bar. While in Jackson, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. During this time she defended a massive voter registration campaign, which had become a target for violence in the turbulent Civil Rights era.

In 1968, Ms. Edelman moved to Washington D.C. to act as consul for the Poor People’s Campaign—an organization created by Martin Luther King, Jr. She founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973 in order to be a voice for poor, minority and disabled children. She is active in promoting legislation and programming that addresses the needs of abused, impoverished, disabled, and homeless children while serving on the boards of a number of child-oriented organizations and foundations.


1From speech at Stand for Children Rally, Washington, DC, 1996

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