Marian Wright Edelman, Founder, Children's Defense Fund
Marian Wright Edelman is a renowned activist who has been fighting for the rights of children for the last 40 years. Through the Children’s Defense Fund that she established in 1973, she has been a leading national voice for disadvantaged children and families.
Edelman grew up in South Carolina, the youngest of five children of a Baptist preacher who taught her early on about the importance of serving others and pursuing an education. As a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, she became the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi bar in 1963. She began her legal career in the as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and served as the director of the Jackson, Miss. office, defending her peers in the Civil Rights Movement, as well as helping to establish the local Head Start program.
In 1968, she moved to Washington, D.C. as counsel for the Poor People's March that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing before his death. Out of her work on poverty with Dr. King, she formed the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and the parent body of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), a non-profit child advocacy organization that has now worked for nearly 40 years to ensure a level playing field for all of America’s children.
Edelman has received over a hundred honorary degrees and many awards including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings which include: "Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change," "The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours," and "Hold My Hand: Prayers for Building a Movement to Leave No Child Behind."