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Alumnae Stories

Marian Wright Edelman, C’60, Named ABA’s 2020 Thurgood Marshall Honoree

August 2020

Marian Wright EdelmanMarian Wright Edelman, C'60, founder and president emerita of the Children's Defense Fund, was honored by the Civil Rights and Social Justice section of the America Bar Association with a 2020 Thurgood Marshall Award. Alumnae, faculty, staff and friends of the College joined the virtual ceremony on Friday, July 31.



Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, gave remarks during the awards celebration.

Edelman has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. In 2018, she took on the role of president emerita at CDF. During her tenure as president, CDF became the nation’s strongest voice for children and families.

"Our mission has never been more important than it is today during these perilous times for children and for our nation," said Edelman at the time.

"I am proud of CDF’s groundbreaking work over the past 45 years and the significant progress we have made for children and families—but there is still so much work to be done."

A Voice for the Voiceless

alumnae_marianwrightedelmanUnder Elderman's leadership, CDF has become the nation’s strongest voice for children and families. The Children's Defense Fund’s "Leave No Child Behind"® mission is to ensure every child a "Healthy Start", a "Head Start", a "Fair Start," a "Safe Start," and a "Moral Startin life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

A graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, began her career in the mid-60s when, as the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1968, she moved to Washington, D.C., as counsel for the Poor People's Campaign that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing before his death. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children's Defense Fund. For two years, she served as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University and in 1973 began CDF.

Edelman served on the Board of Trustees of Spelman College, which she chaired from 1976 to 1987 and was the first woman elected by alumni as a member of the Yale University Corporation on which she served from 1971 to 1977.