“We don’t want ‘those kind’ of people here.” The words not only stung but also gave my heart an extra wallop of confusion, anxiety and fear. In the 1960s my partner and I were thrilled to be able to afford to live in NYC–a dream come true for us. We found a spacious apartment on the upper West side and he went round to look at it.
The doorman’s face stiffened and froze when he saw this was not the white applicant he had expected. He made the egregious error of voicing his opinion about “those people” to a resident who took him seriously and went with us to the NAACP legal defense department. Marian Wright Edelman was involved in the case with an “I don’t think so” attitude about discrimination. We got our dream apartment. What I also got was confirmed proof that yes, you can legally and socially address wrongs, and asking for help can work.
“The National Women’s History Month theme for 2016 (March 2016) honors women who have shaped America’s history and its future through their public service and government leadership. Although often overlooked and undervalued, collectively they have dramatically influenced our public policy and the building of viable institutions and organizations … Each of these public leaders succeeded against great odds.”
I grew up in the suburbs of New York and in Manhattan in the 50s and 60s–often thinking it was the best time to come of age. Best, but not an easy time. As a teenager I heard phrases many of my older friends and relatives were puzzled by–“Make love, not war.” “Question authority” “ratify the ERA”, and I have to mention “Drugs, sex, and rock and roll.”
The invitation, the opening of a door to look at life differently than my older relatives and even some of my peers, called to me. It led to some teenage and early adult missteps, but also to taking professional and personal risks that built a solid foundation in my life to stand up for what I believe in.
Along the way there were the women we learned about in school who broke barriers–gender, sexual, cultural, racial, political. Women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Clara Barton, Margaret Chase Smith, Maya Angelou, Daisy Bates, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, and more, influenced change in a huge way through their endeavors. I was impressed, of course. Unknowingly, I tucked their influence away in the part of me that was becoming an assertive young woman.
My applause and gratitude today goes to Marian Wright Edelman. Marian Wright Edelman’s name on our housing discrimination case was a personal example of a woman staunchly committed to social justice. She was born in South Carolina in 1939. A firm believer in education, her father’s final words were, “Don’t let anything get in the way of your education.” She went on to graduate from Yale Law, was Director of Harvard University Center for Law and Education, worked in Washington and founded (1973) and still continues work in Washington as President of the Children’s Defense League.
Thank you, Marian Wright Edelman.