Marian Wright Edelman


Marian Wright Edelman (born June 6, 1939) is an American activist for the rights of children. She is president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Edelman was born the youngest of five children to Arthur Jerome Wright and Maggie Leola Brown in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Her father, a Baptist minister who instilled in her that Christianity obligates one to service, died when she was 14, urging in his last words, “Don’t let anything get in the way of your education.”

She attended Marlboro Training High School there, and went on to Spelman College and travelled the world on a Merrill scholarship and studied in the Soviet Union as a Lisle fellow. She became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and after being arrested for her activism, she decided to become a lawyer and entered Yale Law School in 1963, joining the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1968.

Edelman was the first African American admitted to the Mississippi Bar when she began practicing law out of the LDF’s Mississippi office. During her time in Mississippi, she worked on racial justice issues connected with the civil rights movement and represented activists throughout the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. She also helped get a Head Start program established in her community.

Edelman moved in 1968 to Washington, D.C. where she continued her work and contributed to the organizing of the Poor People’s Campaign of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm and also became interested in issues related to childhood development and poverty-stricken children.

In 1973, she founded the Children’s Defense Fund as a voice for poor, minority and disabled children. The organization has served as an advocacy and research center for children’s issues, documenting the problems and possible solutions to children in need. To keep the agency independent, she saw that it was financed entirely with private funds.

As founder, leader and principal spokesperson for the CDF, Mrs. Edelman worked to persuade Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected. A philosophy of service absorbed during her childhood undergirds all her efforts. As she expresses it, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time.”

She continues to advocate youth pregnancy prevention, child-care funding, prenatal care, greater parental responsibility in teaching values and curtailing children’s exposure to the barrage of violent images transmitted by mass media.

Edelman serves on the board of the New York City based Robin Hood Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty and its scourge.



If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.

• If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.

• I’m doing what I think I was put on this earth to do. And I’m really grateful to have something that I’m passionate about and that I think is profoundly important.

• You really can change the world if you care enough.

• Service is what life is all about.


Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors by Marian Wright Edelman

Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small, The: Charting a Course for the Next Generation by Marian Wright Edelman

The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours by Marian Wright Edelman

I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire Our Children by Marian Wright Edelman (Author), Barry Moser (Illustrator)

Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations for Our Children by Marian Wright Edelman

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