Eyes on the Prize One Interviews
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Interview with Marian Wright Edelman

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Interviewer: Henry Hampton
Production Team: D
Interview Date: December 21, 1988

Camera Rolls: 4079-4085
Sound Rolls: 433-435

Editorial Notes:

Interview with , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 21, 1988, for . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of


HENRY HAMPTON: We're going back to Mississippi. How did you get to Mississippi in the first place? How old were you and what were you doing there?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I got to Mississippi because I was Black and I was 22 initially, and a law student who had been in a sit-in movement because Mississippi was the worst symbol of the segregated prison. I was represented then. I was a Black kid who wanted to be useful and I was angry and I wanted to change things. I was raised to change things and so were all my friend from SNCC had gone from the sit-in movement in Atlanta where I was a senior at Spelman College, down to register voters in Mississippi. Bob Moses whom I admire deeply was down there. I had gone off to law school but I went down to see them and to alleviate my guilt and to give me enough fuel to get through the rest of law school so I could come back to Mississippi.


HENRY HAMPTON: OK, Mississippi had, had problems. In Mississippi what was left behind after everyone left in the summer of '64?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well in Mississippi what was left behind were those extraordinary poor Blacks and Whites, ah, but extraordinary poor Blacks who had, ah, done such, ah, heroic things to tear down the wall of legal segregation, ah, during those hot months of the summer of '64 and before and afterwards. But they were left without a means there. They were left without enough food to eat. They were left without decent places to stay. They were left without the means to walk through the doors that had been opened by the extraordinary struggles in the courts and in the, the national legislature, in the congress, ah, and by our lawsuits and by our volunteer lawyers and by our White students from outside and the real question that was left in 1965 was how would they live, how would they eat, how would their children be fed and clothed, how would they be able to take advantage of the very narrow openings in the door of legal segregation.


HENRY HAMPTON: OK, we're back in Mississippi, Tell me again in more personal terms, what happened after everybody left.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: What happened after everybody left Mississippi in 1964, was that I was left alone with one or two colleagues, ah, with hundreds of cases that we had delayed trying, um, in order to keep the movement going. There were hundreds and thousands of Black people, um, left with the same misery in their lives as, um, that had existed before though they had a new pride. The country had begun to see their suffering though it had not begun to, um, respond in a social and economic ways that would make rights real for them and for their children. And so we were left with just lots of burdens. You know it took me over a decade to use volunteers again because I realized that the key to social change is the capacity to stick with it year after year after year and in my panic of wondering how in the world would we try all these cases or settle all these cases, ah, you know I saw both the great advantage of having volunteers and outside Whites come in to change the politics of Mississippi but I also saw the limits of that, ah, and that the need for sustained, ongoing advocacy was going to be essential if the children of Mississippi and their poor parents were going to have a chance.


HENRY HAMPTON: What were the problems left behind.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: The problems left behind for me as a lawyer and with my two colleagues in my office were hundreds, you don't want to do that, you want to get to the--
HENRY HAMPTON: Start off with the problem after everyone left
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: After every one left in the summer of '64, I and my two colleague lawyers were left with hundreds of cases that we had delayed but not tried, ah, and which we had to struggle to settle or to deal with. The poor Blacks of Mississippi were left with new pride, hope, the sense that they could, ah, overcome legal segregation, that the country was watching but they were also left with more poverty, ah, an inability to eat, ah, an inability to, to, to, ah, to have the skills and the tools they needed to take advantage of, of desegregating schools, ah, to take advantage of, ah, of new opportunities provided by the civil rights laws and we were left therefore with the challenge of seeing how we could begin to put into place, ah, the food and the nutri- and the health care and the income supports and the jobs, ah, that would enable those people who wanted a better life for their children and in fact to attain it. So, all the social and economic problems that underpinned the legal problems of segregation were left but at least we had done away with one huge termite.


HENRY HAMPTON: Would you say the biggest problem then was people just being able to survive?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: It was survival. I mean we were having major problems of hunger, even starvation. There were people in Mississippi who had no income. The federal government was shifting over from food stamps, ah, to food stamps from commodities distribution. And while the commodities distribution program of the Department of Agriculture was lousy, didn't provide enough food, it wasn't good enough food, it was free. And when you began to shift to food stamps and charge even two dollars per person there were people in Mississippi who didn't even have that two dollars. It was very hard to get people from Washington to believe that there were families that could not afford a dollar or two. I always used to look at the dogs, ah, in a community to decide how poor that community were. And you would see these mangy, scrawny dogs, um, which for me symbolized hunger. And whenever I go into any third world country today, I always look at the dogs. And I used to remember how poor and skinny and awful looking the dogs were like. But the poor were struggling. You know, they were being pushed off the plantations because of the mechanization of cotton, because of the use of chemical weed killing and while it was a literal bondage system, the plantation system in Mississippi, ah, in the '40s, '50s and '60s, ah, where the Senator Eastland sub- you know, were subsidized in the hundreds and thousands of dollars by the federal government, the, the peasants or the tenants on those farms literally could not eat and did not have the most basic survival needs in this rich American country.


HENRY HAMPTON: Why did you want to bring the senators down, and particularly I'm curious in terms of what your thoughts were about Bobby Kennedy before you met him in the Delta.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I tried to bring the people--the senators--I tried to bring the senators down to Mississippi because I was trying to figure out ways of getting the country to see. You know when the White students came down in 1964 that helped the country to see because it was their daughters and their sons that were there and they were afraid for them. These were not people, ah, who necessarily had been attuned to the problems of the Black poor in America at that time and still too much today does not see, ah, the poor Black, Brown, Red, needy child. So in one hand, one, one has to have, ah, someone to lift the window. After everybody left the young people left and at the end of the summer of '64 the problems were still left. They were different. They were changing. We had begun to make a difference. But there was so much suffering that remained to be alleviated. So one was trying to find new ways to capture the imagination and attention of the American public. So, therefore I went to see if I could get the senators to see that it was still bad and indeed was getting worse in many ways and that hunger was growing, ah, even though we had the right to vote. And it's always true that one good thing leads to another, ah, that may not be so good, ah, in getting people to register to vote. The cost of that for many is that they got kicked off the plantations and lost that little bit of money, unjust as it was, that they had had to survive. And so we had to put another means in place. This country is not very well about planning and seeing the consequences of social change[1] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 204-08.
HENRY HAMPTON: You ended up going on, stop for a second.


HENRY HAMPTON: OK, we're back in Mississippi in April of '67. How did you end up touring the delta with Bobby Kennedy and what did you guys do?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, I ended up touring the delta of Mississippi with Bobby Kennedy because he came down as a substitute for Teddy Kennedy when Joe Clarke's Senate Committee on Labor and, and Education came to Mississippi. I had been having enormous numbers of head start battles. And I had gone up to testify before the committee in Washington about the growing hunger, ah, in Mississippi and the fact that many Blacks were being pushed off the plantations. And I told the committee, "Please come and see yourselves," because they didn't quite believe me when I talked about how, ah, the conditions of life, the poverty was getting worse and the people really didn't have enough to eat in Mississippi. And so they came, and, ah, Bobby Kennedy came with them and while they were there to examine the impact of the poverty program, ah, on Mississippi Blacks and Whites, ah, I used it as an opportunity to tell them about growing hunger in the delta and they were shocked and happily, ah, one or two of the senators agreed to stay over and to go up in the delta to see for themselves, if, whether it was true that people were starving, so Bobby Kennedy agreed to be one of those senators and happily he went and he saw and he made hunger an issue.


HENRY HAMPTON: So what exactly did you guys do, down in Jackson?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Starting in Jackson, ah, we drove, got in a care with, ah, my husband Peter, ah, in the back, now husband Peter in the back and with Bobby Kennedy and a driver in the front and, one of the things I remember about Bobby Kennedy, is he had no shame. He would ask you anything. I did not know him before he came to Mississippi. In fact my image of him was kind of one of, ah, I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't, ah, what I got, ah. He was a surprisingly unarrogant man, ah, at least in the context of Mississippi and this was, it's important to remember, after his brother's death. And I remember the, he asked an awful lot about my life, ah, my background, why I was doing this. He asked me about the, ah, last book I'd read and we had a lot of discussion, he always used to say, "What have you just finished reading?" And, I told him. He asked me about my personal life and I told him it was none of his business but at any rate we ended up going to look in the houses of people who, ah, had no income or whose children, ah, were not getting enough to eat.


HENRY HAMPTON: So, you were just driving?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: We were just driving along and chatting along and from the beginning and again, I did not know this man, until he came to Mississippi, he was, ah--


HENRY HAMPTON: OK, we're on the tour. And I'm curious just operationalize for us, your, what, how were you traveling and were you stopping and starting? What were you doing?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: We we were traveling up from Jackson to rural, poor, delta counties. And we went to, ah, Cleveland, Mississippi and the surrounding county and we would just go from house to house and go in and talk to the people. These were very rural, very poor people and walk through the house, talk to the inhabitants, go in the kitchen, look in the refrigerator, ask them what they ate the night before. And usually you would find awfully bare cupboards when you opened them[2] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 204-09. And people would tell you that they had not had enough to eat the night before. I lost one, ah, when Senator Kennedy asked what they'd had for dinner the night before and they'd said, "Pork chops," but that was the only one I lost unfortunately because most of the cupboards were unbelievably bare. And there were people when he asked how they were eating would say, they had no money that they were being supported by, ah, food stamps, ah, by surplus commodities or by their neighbors, ah, and when he inquired about whether they could afford or could get food stamps, they would say no and that they had no money and no income and it was shocking but not hard to believe that there were people in America in 1967 who had no income[3] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 204-08.


HENRY HAMPTON: You told me something about this trip where you said you were very moved by something Bobby Kennedy did.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I was very moved by what Bobby Kennedy did when we went to visit, ah, Annie White in Cleveland, Mississippi, ah, and again without cameras and because he was Bobby Kennedy a lot of, some newspapermen had come along but we went inside a very dark and dank shack, ah, in Cleveland, Mississippi. It was very filthy and very poor and when we walked through from front to back together, ah, there was in the kitchen where mother was kind of scrubbing in a, in a tin can, tin, ah, washing clothes, ah, in a tin tub, ah. There was a child sitting on a dirt floor, ah, filthy. And there was very little light there and he got down on his knees and he tried to talk to the child and get a response from the child. He kept poking or feeling the child and saying, trying to get some response. And I remember watching him in near tears because I kept saying to myself, I had this, this complicated feeling. I was moved by it and wondering whether I would have gotten down on that dirty floor. But, I'm deeply respectful, ah, that he did. He could do almost anything after that and I trusted him from that time on just as a human being. And then he went out, ah, to the backyard where the reporters were waiting. And he was correctly angry. But from that moment on I knew that somehow he would be a major part in, in trying to deal with hunger in Mississippi for children.
HENRY HAMPTON: OK, cut this.


HENRY HAMPTON: So what else comes to mind about that tour?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: What comes to mind during, ah, that same day in Cleveland, Mississippi, I think was, ah, going by this time with the motorcade, ah, it was towards the airport, ah, and he didn't like the siren very much and didn't like the fanfare but somehow the motorcade happened to run over a child's dog. And I remember him stopping and getting out of the car and trying to console the child, ah, and I, you know, this was a man who was very open and attuned to suffering, ah, and he went back, ah, to Washington but he sent, ah, my now husband back, ah, with agriculture officials, went over to Orville Freeman and said, "Just get the food down there, Orville." And because they knew that the Agriculture Department officials might not believe even the senators when they were told that there was no, there were people down in Mississippi with no income. They sent my husband back, for which I am eternally grateful, to come back and to go with the Agriculture Department officials and to show them those families that he had seen, ah, so that we could begin to build a federal response to the outrageous hunger that was pervading the land. You know I'm absolutely outraged, ah, that all that effort in 1967 and '68 which led to a major, national response over a year, a few years, after an extraordinary amount of effort, it should never be so hard to feed children in a, in a, in an affluent country like this. But they were beginning to do that in the early '70s. And to see hunger come back to America again and to come back to poor, rural communities again, ah, is sobering, ah, and I think a cause for real soul searching.


HENRY HAMPTON: You said that Kennedy got angry. What did he tell you?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, I remembered that he said that he had never, he was shocked, that he just did not believe, senator Kennedy said he didn't believe that there were these conditions in America and he could not have remembered seeing any poverty like this in his own country. Ah, this reminded him of visits to other countries, to South Africa, to third world countries, but he had no, no sense that this kind of poverty existed in America. He had not seen anything like it at home.


HENRY HAMPTON: OK, so bring us the intro that gets you into where you're going to hear about this argument and what happened.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, the good thing about Bobby Kennedy is he was tenacious too. I mean once he got into a problem and saw it and understood it, you know, what it meant in terms of child suffering, he wouldn't let it go. And he began to get frustrated but continued to push in trying to get the Agriculture Department and the Johnson Administration to respond to poverty. I was frustrated because I could see on a day to day basis the continuing suffering that was going on. By this time the Vietnam War had started and the country was being diverted away from the problems of poverty and, and hunger. Dr. King was getting frustrated because the movement had moved north, ah, and once things, hit one's own neighborhood, things began to, to be more difficult. So I saw him a lot and he became a friend. And we were always plotting on how could we keep trying to get the country to respond to the poor children and, and, and to the, to the growing hunger problem, which was a national problem. It wasn't just limited to Mississippi. And one day, ah, when I was up in Washington, ah, from Mississippi, ah, doing a number of things, ah. I went out to Hickory Hill, ah, with my husband Peter who was his legislative assistant at the time. And I remember sitting around the pool, ah, and I was about to leave Washington. He was sitting there lounging and he asked me where I was going and why I was going back home. And I said, I was going back to Jackson but I was going to stop by Atlanta and see Dr. King. And, ah, because he was kind of down. He was trying to figure out what he wanted to do next and how we could get the country to deal with the economic problems we were all facing and with the diversion of attention to the Vietnam War, and he said to tell them to, to bring the poor people to Washington. You know, tell him that because we, because we got to somehow have something that was, was able to focus the consciousness of the country and that you wouldn't get him to do that unless there was some visible demonstration. And I said I would, and I said bye and got on the plane and went down to see Martin, ah, who was real depressed at the time, ah, went into his little office. I went back to visit it recently, I mean very modest office and he was really sitting there trying to figure out what in the world he was going to do next. And I told him that Bobby Kennedy said he ought to come to Washington. And, ah, you know, I felt, he treated me as if I were an angel delivering a message, ah, and he immediately understood that it was right. And, ah, we chatted a bit about how it would be done but there was never any discussion about whether that was the right thing to do[4] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 204-10, ah, and, ah, I was glad I could bring a little bit relief. I mean that discussion went on and then I took my plane on to Mississippi and the planning for the Poor People's Campaign ensued, ah, and you know, we know what the rest was.


HENRY HAMPTON: Again, walk us through the process from when you first heard and your reaction to when you told Dr. King his reaction, what was going on.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, I was in Washington for, doing whatever business I was doing for Mississippi at that time and went by Hickory Hill to say bye to him with my now husband, who was his legislative assistant and it was a gorgeous day and he was lounging out around the pool at Hickory Hill and, ah, we went, went through our usual small chat, ah, about what was going on. And when I was leaving, ah, but I also told him I was going to stop back through Atlanta and see Dr. King and he said tell him to bring the poor people to Washington. That it's time, for, ah, you know, some visible, ah, expression of, ah, concern, ah, for the poor, ah, I had been expressing to him my frustration that hunger was still going on and obviously he was still frustrated that the Agriculture Department was so slow in doing something about it or the Johnson Administration was hesitant to move, ah, so he thought that there really needed to be some, some push, some national visible push. But it was a very simple suggestion, you know, tell Dr. King to bring the poor people to Washington, ah, so I got on my plane and I told Dr. King, ah, to do just that. And again as simple as the suggestion was from Bobby Kennedy when I walked into Dr. King's office at SCLC, he was really down. I mean this was a period, ah, of White reaction and backlash. It was a period when the war was becoming a much more divisive force where, ah, the problems of Black and poor people were being left behind and people thought they were annoyances, ah, and, and we'd had a lot of violence in, in northern cities. And, and, and Martin King was really depressed. And one of the things I always remembered about him from my early student days was how he was able to share his uncertainties, share his, not knowing what to do next, ah, I remember his Founders Day speech when I was a senior at Spelman College when he talked about, ah, taking that one step even if you can't see the whole way and how you just have to keep moving even if you're slower than you want. If you can't walk, crawl but keep moving. He was real down that day when I walked in from Atlanta, ah, sitting in his office and he was like everybody at that time. Ah, Kennedy and me and all of us concerned about the poor and what was happening to civil rights and the country turning itself away from it, about what we were going to do next. And I told him that Bobby Kennedy said he ought to bring the poor people to Washington. And, as simply as Bobby Kennedy had said it, King instinctively felt that that was right and treated me as if I was an emissary of grace here or something that brought him some light, ah, and out of that the Poor Peoples Campaign was born.


HENRY HAMPTON: OK, we're in the study and you've come and you've given him this idea, the words just come out of your mouth. What did you see? Did his state of being change? Did his eyes opened? I mean what did you see?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Enormous relief, ah, that somehow an answer had come, ah, and I felt enormous gratitude and astonishment that somehow and great, you know that I was able to be helpful. Because it was a struggle to know where to go next, ah, because the country really was turning away and things really were hard, ah, and trying to find new paths to, to, to deal with the seemingly intractable problems of both northern and rural poverty, ah, you know, it was getting a lot of folk down. We were searching for places to go and obviously Dr. King was under more burden and responsibility to, to take us to that next step, ah, than any. So there was relief, ah, we chit-chatted a bit about the strategies but he instinctively knew how to mobilize and do the mechanics, ah, but the point is that the idea felt right to him and I really felt as I left there that I had helped and that we were going to move on to something new.


HENRY HAMPTON: So what happened with the idea right after that into the fall?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Oh, all the SCLC machinery, ah, went into place, ah, you know the planning for mule trains and to get the poor from all over the country, ah, to Washington, ah, began to take place. I mean these were large, logistical exercises. I went back to doing my, ah, work in Mississippi but in the interim had decided to move to Washington because it became clear to me that I could continue to try as many lawsuits as I did in, in Mississippi but unless, ah, the Justice Department and HEW were doing its job in making sure that the schools were desegregated, that we were not going to have a massive impact. I could continue to come to Washington, as I did often, to get, help get the Head Start Program, ah, the Child Development Group of Mississippi, which is the seeds of CDF today, ah, refunded and to try to answer Senator Stennis that unless the poor had someone there who was looking out for their interest all the time, ah, and that could provide an early alert system and, and, and answer back the Stennises who were misstating the facts about what poor parents and poor people's programs were doing, that we'd never make any, any significant progress. And that while all of us had correctly and with limited resources, ah, engaged in principal setting litigation and worked to pass major new civil rights laws, ah, that unless somebody was in there trying to help implement them, to make sure that people were aware of their rights, to make sure that there were good regulations and to make sure that there was a voice in, in Washington we would not have the kind of ongoing change, so that, ah, I prepared myself to phase out my Mississippi work and then to move to Washington.


HENRY HAMPTON: Any major memories from, um, can, um--


HENRY HAMPTON: In a couple of phrases tell me what happened in the fall, that following fall we did this and we listened to the retreat and what happened and what you remember.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, after I had gone to Atlanta that time to see Dr. King and conveyed Bobby Kennedy's message about bringing the poor people to Washington and having a Poor People's Campaign, ah, SCLC then began to mobilize and then to, to plan the logistics of such a move. There was a retreat at Early House out in Virginia where he brought together a number of his senior staff, ah, and some outsiders. I remember Joan Baez being there. And it was the first time I think I ever sort of got to see Jesse, ah, in any sustained way. He was a young preacher, ah, but again Martin was back, ah, talking about the mood of the country and how difficult it all was in trying to put into perspective what was happening in the north and all of the violence and the, and the, and the turning away again of a nation, ah, and again, he was real down because it was real hard, it was real hard and still is to get America to hear. And it was the first time I'd heard Jesse preach. Because I really didn't know Jesse then and, and I wondered who this young preacher was that Martin asked to give a sermon the first night. We were singing and praying and struggling and trying to be together. And Jesse preached on Job, ah, and, in a sense asked God's forgiveness for our being, giving up, ah, when things were getting tough. I remember it very poignantly as if it were yesterday. And I remember how, you know as tired as everybody was, ah, and as frustrated as everybody was, ah, how there was also a sense of forgiveness, forgive us, ah, for not wanting to, not, not wanting but not being able to deal with how hard it is, ah, and there was a decision to move ahead and to proceed with the Poor People's Campaign, ah, understanding it was going to be a real struggle, ah, but I think that consolidated it and got the planning process going.


HENRY HAMPTON: I need you to go back one more time to the time when you communicated the idea because I need a couple of sentences to be able to hook up with something. He's there, you've given him the idea, I'm going to ask you, did he respond? I'd like you to start, he responded and.
HENRY HAMPTON: Did he respond?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: When I told him that Robert Kennedy, when I told Dr. King--
HENRY HAMPTON: Start again.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Sorry about that. When I walked into his office and we were talking about what in the world we were going to do next and I told him that Bobby Kennedy said that he should bring the poor people to Washington and have a poor peoples' campaign, he responded instinctively and immediately, ah, that that felt right and that he would do it. And, ah, you know, while the logistics still remained, ah, to be worked out I certainly left there and went back to Mississippi with the sense that it was done, that it would be done even though we had not figured out all the, the hows.
HENRY HAMPTON: That's fine.


HENRY HAMPTON: I'm going to jump around a little bit. The first question I want to ask you is, so all these people were brought to Washington, D.C., were there specific plans about what they were going to get when they got there?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Of course not, this was a Poor People's Campaign, ah, and you also have to remember that we had gone through, ah, some real tragedy. It was the Poor People's Campaign without Dr. King, ah, and without the leaders who had conceptualized it in, in, in many ways and inspired it, ah, ah, to carry it forth. So we were bedraggled Poor People's Campaign and secondly unlike rich people, poor people don't have rich, fancy, well financed lawyers who are there, sort of developing position papers and while I had moved to Washington to think about how I could, could become a lawyer for the poor or for programs like the Poor Head Start Program that Senator Stennis was attacking in Mississippi, ah, you know I was not going into immediate business. I was going to see if I could learn how to think again.
HENRY HAMPTON: Can you hold it for a second?
HENRY HAMPTON: Let's start again and try to incorporate the question.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: The question, all right.


HENRY HAMPTON: Were there specific plans beforehand?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: There were not specific plans. There were general plans. They were coming to Washington. I didn't do it again, did I?
HENRY HAMPTON: No, no. You were fine. Were there specific plans?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I think that the Poor People's Campaign.
HENRY HAMPTON: One second. Were there specific plans?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I don't recall specific plans for the Poor People's Campaign. They were coming to Washington out of a general and urgent need, ah, they were hungry, ah, there was growing poverty but they had lost their leader. We were a bit bedraggled as the campaign and when I began to meet with them when they came here, it was very clear that the specific position papers and what they would ask each agency to do or what they would ask the President to do needed to be fleshed out. So I got myself an instant job, ah, of developing those position papers.


HENRY HAMPTON: And you talked to me on the phone about a group that you formed with Roger Wilkins and Carl Holman, can you tell me who was in that group and what you did?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, again, ah, I was a, I was a, I was a 27, 28 year-old lawyer who had been up in Washington a month or two from Mississippi, not wise to the ways of the town, ah, though learning, ah, and determined. And the only way that I was able to go through and be technically correct on what it is, ah, the poor people should be asking for, was by getting the help of people inside agencies who knew programs and policies and politics in great detail. So since I had a silent, quiet cabinet that would meet every night at 10 or 11 o'clock, ah, people like Lisle Carter who was then an assistant secretary at HEW, Carl Holman who was a deputy director of the Civil Rights Commission, ah, Roger Wilkins who an assistant secretary at the Justice Department, John Schnitker who was the Under-secretary of Agriculture but someone who cared about hungry people. And there were a network of sympathetic officials. And we would meet and I would draft position papers and they would help me correct them and, and making sure that I was not off base, ah, and, ah, then I would deliver those to Ralph Abernathy over at, ah, ah, the motel in the middle of the night and he would get up and say them the next morning. There were, we were able to function in that way, ah, because the poor brought their needs and they brought their eloquence, ah, in fact one of the things I remember most is once when we were doing hearings on the Hill, during the Poor People's Campaign, we decided to have the poor people from resurrection come and line the subways on the way to the senate. And I remember a senator, to show you how spaced we are about the poor in America, coming up to compliment me on the costumes of my people. And it took me a little while to realize that he was really talking about these poor people. One of the hearings I am proudest of because it was again a hearing that was not carefully conceptualized in the way in which we try to conceptualize hearings at the Children's Defense Fund today. On that day there were poor people, all kinds, the Native American from their reservations and, and the Mexican Americans from their point of need and the rural Blacks and the rural Whites and you have to understand this was the first time that poor people of all colors had, had come together to express their need in, in, in, in their own way in one of the most eloquent hearings I can remember ever in Washington was simply pulling together these people, ah, to talk about the representative kinds of poverty that was a universal kind of poverty, ah, that is more true today, ah, but, ah, you know, I felt privileged to kind of be their lawyer. But it took both the eloquence of the poor but also the technical know-how of those middle class leaders, ah, to make it happen.
HENRY HAMPTON: That was very, very nice.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: It was a wonderful hearing I still remember--


HENRY HAMPTON: Resurrection City is starting and Ralph Abernathy has hit the first nail in, the mule trains are coming up, the buses have come up. What were your expectations?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: You know I don't know what my expectations were for, for Resurrection City or for the Poor People's Campaign was other than simply people have got to hear, ah, we were all very hurt, ah, we had lost Dr. King. We were trying very hard, ah, to carry on. We were determined, ah, that the poor would be seen and heard. It was, it was such a struggle. I mean what I remember most about Resurrection City was the mud and the rain which came along with the poor people, how haphazard the, the logistics, were, ah, and how hard, but you know, it was, to go out and try to get them to be witnesses but how willing and open they always were in a very new setting, about going to do this. And I, and I always have felt somewhat schizophrenic, ah, because on one hand, going out to Resurrection City to identify and talk to witnesses, at the same time to try to craft what they said in a way in which Washington bureaucrats, ah, can hear it. So, I ran this, this back and forth thing from sort of living out at Resurrection City to sort of hear from them what was needed and, and then back to kind of the, the leaders where the Reverend Abernathy over at the Pit Hotel, which is today one of our worst homeless shelters in, in the District of Columbia where SCLC staff were staying, ah, where Dr. Abernathy was staying, ah, but it was, it was both, it was a struggle, ah, and the poor were so moving and again so determined, ah, to try to do what they could and so needy, ah, and so I guess I, my expectation was just to sort of get through the day and to get them heard and, and still always as today to try to see if the country can respond.


HENRY HAMPTON: Did you expect the country to respond?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Listen, I always expect the country to do what is right but I always work to, to get up, ah, when they don't. I never understood then and I don't understand now why it was so hard, ah, to get hungry people fed in rich America. And why the needs of poor children are always superseded by politics. I suppose you have to remember in the middle of an election campaign, ah, Robert Kennedy was by this time challenging Lyndon Baines Johnson. We were in the middle of the war in Vietnam. People were beginning to realize we couldn't, or to say we couldn't have guns and butter. And so the poor were kind of an annoyance over here, ah, and, ah, and something that, that the country wanted to forget, ah, and so it was just real hard and I never get used to how hard it is, ah, and how, you know, people can listen to, ah, the voices of need from, from Indian Reservations or about hungry children anywhere and still find excuses for not acting.


HENRY HAMPTON: You focused on one issue. What issue did you focus on and why and how?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, each day, though, the poor people I didn't focus--The Poor People's Campaign didn't focus just on one issue. They went to different agencies each day and a position paper had to be prepared for each of them, ah, we would go to the Justice Department and would be met by the Attorney General, ah, and Dr. Abernathy would, would read his statement that had been prepared, ah, the night before with the help of, ah, government officials like Roger Wilkins and Lisle Carter and Carl Holman and we'd craft these things in the middle of the night and get Dr. Abernathy to approve them and then the poor would joint Dr. Abernathy and we went to a different agency, ah, maybe two a day, I don't remember the logistics, the files are very old now, ah, and would make the speech and make the sets of demands. And this went on at the, at the Agriculture Department where again, hunger, at that time, I recall as being the over arching issue and which became the kind of issue of focus because of what had happened in Mississippi earlier, because more and more people were beginning to realize that hunger was a more widespread problem than other because it was such a clear-cut clarion call to decency. So that I guess I recall most the, the Agriculture Department meetings with Secretary Freeman and in discussions with the White House officials at that time, most of our focus was on trying to get a victory for the poor by getting them to respond to get the national government to get some food to them as Bobby Kennedy had, had urged them. But again it had gotten mixed in to the politics of Kennedy and Johnson at that point and so we went away, I think from Washington, ah, not only depressed about Dr. King's death but also depressed that our government had been so niggardly, ah, and political in responding to what was a clear and urgent need.


HENRY HAMPTON: Was it naive to think that the government would respond that quickly to something while you were in town?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: It is never naive to think that, ah, a democratic country will do what is right. It is, you know, and you keep at it, ah, today I still think that Americans are going to respond, ah, to growing child hunger and homelessness, ah, even if I know one will work for another ten or fifteen years to get them to do that. But you got to have both division and the expectation.


HENRY HAMPTON: What happened with Resurrection City and with your efforts?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: That Resurrection City went away I think in disappointment, ah, it got mired in mud and got mired in politics, ah, but I think that the poor had made themselves heard. Washington was never quite the same again. It taught me the lesson of, of follow-up, that nothing does come quick, that nothing is one shot, that one has to do public awareness and raise consciousness but then one has to have a mechanism to keep at it and that one can't do a whole lot of issue so that out of Resurrection City and out of the Poor People's Campaign, the Washington Research Project was born, ah, and the Washington Research Project became the Children's Defense Fund and ironically we're still talking about these same issues today though the country has made significant progress. In fact because of the range of issues that was set into force, ah, with Robert Kennedy's visit to Mississippi, with the constant pushing of the Agriculture Department with the, the McGovern Commission on Hunger, ah, over a period of years, when President Nixon came in, this country greatly expanded the food programs, the child lunch programs, the food stamp programs, thanks to the advocacy of lots of people. But I know that the Poor People's Campaign now in retrospect played an enormously important role in making all of that happen.


HENRY HAMPTON: I'm looking for at the end of this year. And, um, I'll give you your first shot and then I'll remind you of some of the things you told me last time. But this is not a good year.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: This is not a good year.
HENRY HAMPTON: When you refer to Kennedy and to Dr. King at least on the phone which I think may be more effective in looking back at this. Can you tell me why it wasn't a good year with what happened and with all these things and what your resolve was. Where did it leave you at the same time? So tell me about looking over after Resurrection City, after that year.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, 1968 was a very complicated year. And obviously it was not a good year. We lost Martin King, ah, we lost Bobby Kennedy, ah, the Poor People's Campaign went away in somewhat disarray. The country had not responded, we were, it was the close of the first era of the '60s, too much, too many Americans tend to think of the '60s as monolithic, ah, for me it was the end of that period of non-violent, ah, struggle to get America to see and hear its poor and minority populations and so in one sense the Poor Peoples Campaign brought that to a close. And it was the beginning of the second part of the '60s which was the Vietnam war, the more violent period, the reaction to the loss of leadership and to the violence of the nation that destroyed the, the voices for sanity which were Bobby and Martin during that period. And so it was an important hiatus, ah, ah, for the country. But I think it's so important that we remember, you know, the good sides, the struggle, the extraordinary leadership that was exercised, ah, under leaders like Martin King and Bobby Kennedy but with those ordinary women all over America, those ordinary poor people all over America who had faith and who struggled to make American institutions respond in a non violent way. And that is my '60s and that is the dominant view that I have of the '60s.


HENRY HAMPTON: One more time. What was the year like and where did that leave you and/or the movement in terms of what to do.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: The year 1968 was an extraordinarily difficult year. I mean we lost Martin. We lost Bobby. The Poor People' Campaign had come to an end without, ah, an adequate national response, ah, to hunger. The Vietnam war was becoming, a, a terribly divisive force, ah, and so the non violence which was a Black movement was ending and the era of violence in reaction to the loss of, of our leaders, ah, was beginning. And for those of us who were determined to carry on the legacy of Martin it was a time to regroup and rethink and get up and figure out new strategies, to build new paths toward the future, ah, to deal with the issues of poverty and deal with the issues of race that were going to be ongoing but clearly much more difficult[5] Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 - 1985; Episode 204-40. So in one sense it was the close of an era that left us very sad. In the other sense it was a beginning which I think has led to a kind of new strategies of advocacy, to groups like the Children's Defense Fund today. And this country still got to hear if it's going to save itself for the future.


HENRY HAMPTON: So, you never thought at the end of 1968 of giving up?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Giving up was simply not a part of the language of my childhood or of my upraising. You don't give up. Nobody has a right to give up on any child. I don't think you have a right to give up on your country. You never give up on your ideals. And those of us who really believed in the things that Dr. King stood for have an obligation to try to follow him rather than just celebrate him. I would never give up as long as we have poverty or racism in this country and we still do.


HENRY HAMPTON: You told me about getting up in the morning.
HENRY HAMPTON: You told me something on the phone about in the response to, is the movement dead, getting up in the morning and going on. Can you tell me about that?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well I get very annoyed when people ask me whether the movement died in 1968. I mean the movement didn't die. It changed forms. You get up, as I got up the next morning and lots of other people got up in the morning, after, after the Poor People's Campaign ended and Martin got killed or Bobby got killed and we figured out what we would do next. I remember a group of us sitting around behind, after Martin's funeral, to say, what are we going to do next. I mean what you do next is you go home and you get a good night's sleep and you think about how you get up tomorrow, ah, and you carry on his work. But the movement simply took new forms after 1968. The advocacy that I'm doing today on behalf of children is a direct result of what went on in the late '60s. But it was very clear that we had to develop new strategies, new ways of framing issues, new ways of tapping into the broader self interest, ah, so that Whites would perceive it as their self interest. As always it has been in their self interest to deal with issues of race and class and so we began to talk about children rather than poor adults and to talk about prevention and to show the ways in which the deprivations that Black and poor children face also affect middle class and, and non poor children and White children. And so we were creating, setting out on a long path of building a new highway to the future and to create a new politics for change that would have new names and hopefully a broader constituency. And it was excruciatingly hard in the early years. But you know, fifteen years later, ah, twenty years later I think it was clearly the right new path because this nation now is coming absolutely face to face with the fact that unless it invests in its children and its non-White and poor children as much as its privileged and White ones, it is not going to be able to lead morally in the new century nor is it going to be able to compete economically. So for the first time in my years of being an advocate for the poor and disadvantaged and for children, doing what is morally right, what Dr. King called for twenty years ago, thirty years ago, ah, and doing what is absolutely necessary to save our national skin, ah, has converged. So the nation is going to have to deal with Dr. King's issues, ah, or die.
HENRY HAMPTON: For me, for cutting purposes, Bobby can you pull in tight on this one?


HENRY HAMPTON: One more time, starting with, did the idea of getting up in the morning and continuing on with the work of those who had left us in '68. So at the end of '68 you were talking about getting up in the morning. Can you tell me about that one more time?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, at the end of '68 the issue was how do we carry on from here? How do we continue the work of, of Martin and, and what had begun in the Civil Rights Movement but needed, ah, to have social and economic underpinnings. How do we continue to try to respond to the calls of the Poor People's Campaign, ah, and so we created new organizations, developed new strategies, ah, new modes of advocacy, ah, to try to begin to build paths, ah, to get the country to respond to the, to the social and economic needs of, ah, of its poor. Very hard with the war. Very hard with the northern White backlash. Very hard with the violence, because again, we tend to blur the violence of the Vietnam war, which was mostly White kids and the riots which came in reaction to the violence of, of those who took the lives of Martin and, and Robert Kennedy. So it was very hard to be heard. But you know the fallow periods and one has to remember the seasons, ah, that in the barest points of winter, one really does have to remember that leaves will come again in the spring, ah, and so those spring leaves and buds were beginning to blossom now, ah, in a new, I think, recognition by the country that it is in deep trouble, that the messages of Martin twenty years ago are the messages that we have still got to answer today. Ah, but I think paradoxically, again the Reagan years, which have been very hard years, assaults on the national role in protecting the poor and the minority groups has set the stage for the 1990s because this country will have to confront the issues of investing in its children and families if it is going to preserve its future. Sorry, I don't have much eloquence left there in that but for whatever reason it feels very circuitous, ah, to me.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: What was his question?


HENRY HAMPTON: So, when Resurrection City was done, did you ever think about giving up?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: When Resurrection City was done I never thought about giving up. It was, you know, I thought about how do I get up and figure out a new way, ah, to keep going. I don't think anybody ever has a right to give up, ah, on children or give up on the poor. The needs remain. The needs grow. I was raised at a time by Black adults, my daddy was a preacher like Dr. King where, if you saw a need, you, you, you tried to respond. And they showed us by personal example how to respond. In my little home town in rural, segregated South Carolina there was no playground where Black kids could go and play because we were segregated. So my daddy build a playground behind the church. There was no Black home for the aged in South Carolina to take the elderly. So that my daddy and mama started one and we kids were taught to, to serve and clean and cook. So we learned that it was our responsibility to take care of the elderly. The question was never why, if there was a need, should somebody else do something. We were taught to ask why I don't do something. And Dr. King and Whitney Young and others of the '60s reinforced that in college. And so when, and by his example, he struggled and went through his doubts. He was often discouraged. He was often dis--depressed. He didn't know where he was going to go from day to day, ah, despite the larger vision for what was right for America, ah, and so what right did we have not to try to carry on. None of us had his eloquence and certainly not his goodness, ah, but in our own ways, with our hands and our limited visions, we can try and craft together his dream, ah, for the children who have not yet had a chance to realize it. So no, it didn't occur to me to give up. It occurred to me to go on and figure out a way to make it happen.
HENRY HAMPTON: That was great.


HENRY HAMPTON: I wanted to ask you about Martin's death, Dr. King's death because it was one of those things that caught us all. Where were you when you found out and what did you feel like?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I was in my apartment over on 6th and G Street, South East, ah, here in Washington, D.C., ah, I couldn't believe it. I was supposed to have dinner with Peter, my now husband, and with Judge David Bazelon at the Cosmos Club where women had the privilege of going in through the back door, ah, and, ah, that evening and, ah, I know I went with Peter to do it but I got up because I really wasn't prepared to sit there, ah, on that evening and have dinner in that place, ah, at that time, ah, and you know Martin, it was like a piece of you had died. I was angry. I was hurt. I was absolutely unbelieving. I still never can understand why we kill the best in ourselves, ah, ah, it never occurred to me that what he was and what he stood for wouldn't live, ah, that was the obligation of all of us to see that it did. And the riots broke out, ah, the fear that the smoke, the disarray and I remember going out to a school in Washington at my sister's and someone else's request, to try to get the kids off the street. And I don't remember which school I went to, ah, but when I was talking to a group of Black kids here in the middle of the riots, which were horrible, ah, to tell them not to participate because if they did they would be, ah, risking their own futures.


HENRY HAMPTON: How did you hear it?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: How did it hear it? How did I hear the riots?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: King. I heard it as a rejection. I heard it as saying never, ah, in many ways, ah, I heard it with deep anger, ah, and in one sense one side of me understood the kids out there throwing the bottles and, and burning the buildings, ah, I heard it with a, I heard it the way Martin would have heard it. In, in some ways I heard it as saying, go on, ah, don't let it get you. You know, there's that old saying, about Booker T. Washington that I got in my early childhood, "Don't ever let any man drag you so low as to make them hate you." And I used to tell myself and I used to want to hate him. And when I used to see Cecil Price one day in court when Judge Cox sat him down at my table and I thought I, I realized I was capable of murder so one knows that one is always capable of the foibles of every other human being and only by grace does somehow one keep from being that. But the, the, the, but I was never, during the Mississippi years and even during the loss of King, going to let them beat us or prevail, ah, because my daddy and my mamma and all the old folk in my background and Martin King had told us that we were better, that we could, we could, we could overcome that, ah, that we didn't have to be like them, ah, that we could teach them something. That there was something higher, that we could win. And that winning meant winning inside, ah, you know those old folk in my church and again it's the same old thing that Martin preached, ah, they never cracked a book of theology or philosophy but the thing that they anchored us in was that the kingdom of God is within. Not in what you have and Martin didn't have anything. Nobody ever remembers what kind of suits he wore or anything else, but in what you are. And so in that sense that kind of inner anchoring.


HENRY HAMPTON: Let met jump here.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Maybe I'm not answering your question Henry because I mean when you said, How did I hear it? What, what do you mean by that? Because I took it in a different sense.
HENRY HAMPTON: You did it just fine. Let's change rolls please.


HENRY HAMPTON: The Meredith March, it's your first on the national scene but really it begins to capture the words Black Power and Black Power gets turned into Black Only, by bad media and some other things. During those years you were in Mississippi.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I was in Mississippi. And Stokely was in Mississippi and again most of the SNCC kids were struggling on and off plantations trying to register to vote. And my dominant feeling about snow, Stokely, I mean, goes back to the earlier days of how he would come off plantations where he had been shot at and he could laugh about how close the call was, ah, and if I remember back to the Meredith March, ah, I guess I have two dominant memories, ah, it was at the end of each day, Dr. King, listening to Stokely and other young people, who by that time, had been so frustrated about the slow response of the country, ah, on voter registration and on implementing, ah, the new civil rights laws and who saw the continuing poverty and saw the continuing violence, that they were really saying to Dr. King that it was time for us all to be more aggressive and I used to remember how Martin would listen to the frustration, particularly after Meredith got shot, they wanted to do something. And he keep, he would keep asking, "Stokely what is it that you want to do?" And "Oh, Stokely is it really so bad?" But the patience, ah, of, of listening in the middle of the pressures of the day to day marches with the, with the police and the state troopers and the, and the, and the tear gas, I remember the tear gas and I remember Canton, Mississippi, particularly of the tear gas. But I also remember the houses with Stokely haranguing about the need to sort of be more assertive, to have Black Power, to push the Whites out, to have more leadership and more strong leadership come and Martin not really understanding it or understanding how and why Stokely was so angry, because he was coming from a very different point of view.


HENRY HAMPTON: How about the pressure to push Whites out of the movement?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Well, it was very hard for Whites to come in as partners, ah, as equal partners or even as partners where they would not be leaders. It was very important, ah, despite the fact that the Whites coming in for the summer project of 1964, under Bob Moses, and others responded to the call, and got the country to focus. You know, there's always a double side to that. Why should it take Whites to have to come in to get the country to look and see its Blacks who are all equal before God. So there was always this edge in all of us about why it takes a White kid to make the country look, look at a Black kid. And always underneath the surface and secondly when you had lots of eager and, and wonderful young people, ah, come and I remember Reed College particularly because I think I recall that Reed sent more kids down to the summer project in '64 almost than any other college. And many of those remain my good friends today. It's very hard for them to be patient and to work under and, and to take the, let the local people take leads. That's still a hard job for many organizers today going in and really responding and following local people as opposed to asserting themselves. And so tensions develop rather early, ah, and there came a point, ah, I think with Bob Moses and many others when it was very clear that Blacks would have to begin to do for themselves the kind of leadership which they had been doing for years and years and years, ah, but without the kind of national response that was required, if they were to going to move on the next stages of development so that there became a period when it was clear that it was best for Whites to begin to withdraw for Blacks to begin to assert more leadership. And you know, things go in cycles, ah, and, ah, I think that the role of the Whites in '64, in '65, terribly important. But it was time to go. I mean, there was a time for Mr. Ghandi, told his young White advisors to leave so that it, you know, because it, it had to be.


HENRY HAMPTON: King was a portion of our lives and then this almost myth begins to emerge in the north about this man named Malcolm X. Do you remember your first feelings on hearing him and the first time you met him?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: The first time I met Malcolm X was when I was a law student at Yale Law School. He had come to the Law School to speak. I was sitting in the back of the audience. He walked up to me and said, "Marian Wright, I'm Malcolm X." And I said, I, I mean, I withdraw, said, "Who, how does this man know who I am?" I then looked at some of these handsome Black men standing behind him and I recognized a number of people, ah, who were his followers from my home town. There, but he knew almost everything about me. And, wanted to sit down and talk. He spoke that night at Yale Law School's Auditorium and he was absolutely mesmerizing. He was brilliant. He was funny. He expressed the rage that all of us had, continued to feel about the slow pace of change in the country but he did it in the cleverest and the funniest and the most put down way, ah, you could imagine, ah, I mean he was, ah, I just remember laughing uncontrollably at some of the ways in which Malcolm would answer questions and put down, ah, you know, Whites who were, ah, trying to trick him at that point. So, he was a, he was a new outlet, ah, for the anger and the frustration. But he sure was smart. I also remember, I mean I saw him a number of times after that, I went down to, to his restaurant, ah, in Harlem. And, ah, I remember a meal, particularly where he chided me for eating White bread. When he told me how, how useless and nutrionless, and, ah, ah, blanched out this, this thing was. And he gave me a lecture on how one should eat more healthily, ah, in fact, it had recalled when I was a little kid, ah, I remember having dinner with Mary McLeod Bethune at Benedict College when I was little, little kid and I had never seen anybody that proud, a Black woman that proud and it was the first time I ever heard "the Blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice," ah, and that stuck in my head. But Malcolm's lecture, ah, White bread and its nutritionless content, stuck with me for many years afterwards.


HENRY HAMPTON: Go back to Mississippi. Do it one more time and watching the traditional movement, Dr. King dominated movement, started to come apart around the issue of, of violence and White participation. You had vested incredible years of your life in that, it must have been painful to watch it come to the surface. Or was it a natural consequence?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: It was very painful to see the divisions between White and Black, northern White ally, ah, and Black leader, ah, ah, occur in Mississippi but some of that is an inevitable part of change. People have different roles at different stages in the movement and you have to know when to come in and help and you have to know when to leave in order to help. I remember one day, because there were a number of White friends, John Mudd and others, one John Mudd who subsequently became a Director of the Child Development Group of Mississippi and subsequent Executive Director of CDF and who was a very good friend of Bob Moses, ah, and Bob Moses who, I think, after Dr. King was the second great professional figure, ah, of the Civil Rights Movement for me. I mean absolute integrity, extraordinary courage, ah, and as one of the people who kept us all going and, and in a sense was a real servant leader, ah, or non leader and who got so upset about the cultism that was developing around him that he began to withdraw and changed his name as you know. But he was very good friends with John Mudd and with others. But I remember a day in Steven's Kitchen, which was the greasy spoon restaurant next to my law office, which was over a pool hall on Barry Street, when we were eating in there, John Mudd and I and I think one of the Whites and Bob came in but he wanted to speak to me but he was not willing to, to deal with the whole table. And then I knew that something very major had passed, ah. It has always been my view, and you know, you see this old surface argument about, ah, desegregation and, and, and helping impacted schools today, ah, that we've got to continue to work on both fronts. That you have got to develop Black leadership. You got to help Black children in those ghetto schools learn how to read and write better than White children because they need to know it more than the White children do because of the way that society still is and you've got to get them in those suburban cities and make sure they know their culture and, and have good skills and these, both had arguments have to, to give way to dealing with kids wherever they are.


HENRY HAMPTON: You were 25, 26 years-old and you were getting senators to come to Mississippi to do something. You say it casually but that's a remarkable thing. How in the devil does that work?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: It doesn't work. I didn't feel getting senators to come to Mississippi was remarkable. I was trying to do my job. It never occurred to me that anything I was doing was remarkable. I was simply responding to a need. The only time I find I get in trouble is when I start thinking about what I'm doing and whether or not I'm going to look good or whether or not it's going to get something, you know.


HENRY HAMPTON: In 1967, '68 you're in your mid-twenties, how can you even talk to a senator?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Because you have a passion, ah, for something. And I have always had a passion, ah, for seeing that Blacks and the poor get a fair shake in this society. I cannot stand it, to see people suffer unnecessarily. And I don't know, it, if, if you see what needs to be done and you try to say the truth as you see it, ah, I find that people, ah, will respond. My daddy used to always say, just kind of get on the--Sorry, go ahead. I'm not, I'm not giving you what you want.


HENRY HAMPTON: Just that kids today now say--
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: It never occurred to me.
HENRY HAMPTON: --they did it back then and I couldn't do that. I'm just trying to get a sense of how you did it, how you got a senator to pay attention, how you got the country to.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: In ordinary ways, you just, each of us can make a difference by just simply seeing a need, trying to figure out how you respond to that need. I always used to do my homework carefully. But you know, and I would follow up and never give up. I mean, getting things done, ah, is something that any person can do. If they simply believe in something deeply. Hang in there.


HENRY HAMPTON: How did you do it back then?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: How did I do it back then? How did I do it back then? You know, you know I was talking to that I didn't realize.


HENRY HAMPTON: What was it that allowed that generation to play these sophisticated skilled roles at organizing a social movement?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: We had a passion in the '60s in that generation. I got that, we were angry. But, so had, a, had been taught by our parents that the world had a lot of things wrong with it and that you were obligated and could change it. And our adults, even though the, all of our lives from the outside, was, was ugly. You know tell us we were worth, weren't much very, worth very much, tell us that we couldn't, ah, you know, succeed like White children could. Our parents said it wasn't so and our teachers said it wasn't so and our preachers said it wasn't so and we therefore internalized the fact that it wasn't so. And so from the time I was a little girl, I was taught that I could change things. And I lived with adults who didn't have a whole lot of money or a lot of education but who made it clear that we could change the world we were in. And so when I went off to Spelman College, ah, and I again heard role models in chapel. We heard everybody, I mean, Martin King was through chapel, you know, Benjamin Mace[SIC] taught us everything about how to act and how to dress but the message was that you can do anything, you can be anything as one person. And there was never a time in my life, ah, in that segregated prison of a small, rural town when I did not know that I was going to change segregation, ah, and I certainly always knew that I was responsible for helping to change it and so when the sit-in movement came or when a Martin came to kind of ignite, ah, the passions that were already there. I mean, you know, everything is in timing. I mean I got mad one night when I was a freshman in Atlanta, ah, this was in 1956 when I just, didn't want to go, get up and go to the back of the bus. And there were endless incidences like that by individual kids or other kids. Spelman girls used to go down the State Legislature once a year, just to get thrown out. Just to let them know we were there. And we'd come and sit in the galleries. The legislature would stop. They'd tell the marshal to remove those girls. But we were making our point. And so, you know, all of our lives we were taught to struggle and taught that we as one person could make a difference but we saw people making a difference. You know when I went off to college, ah, there were three or four women in my congregation whom I'm still trying to be as good at. And there are three or four women in Mississippi who are like them that I'm still trying to be as good at. And there's Miss T. Kelly, there's Miss Lucy McQueen, there's Miss Nancy Reese and Miss Kate Winston. These were uneducated women but who were kind to kids, when I went off to Spelman, you know. And they always made me feel that I was going to get the education they never got. Ah, they used to send me these, these, these shoe boxes full of chicken and greasy dollar bills. And always made it clear that I would make a difference, ah, but, you know, they made a difference in their one-on-one way. And when you saw one little kid down at Spelman or Ruby Doris Smith, ah, went out there to plan a sit-in demonstration. All it takes is caring, ah, determination, ah. It had never occurred to me that I was going to go to law school, never, never. I was a pre med student and I was a music major. And one day, I was in a sit-in movement. I went down to the local NAACP office to volunteer and I saw all of these complaints that had come in from poor Black people all over Georgia, that no lawyer could respond to because they didn't have the money and there weren't enough lawyers. And I asked myself, what in the world am I doing thinking about, as I was at the time, going to study 19th Century Russian Literature. I didn't want to teach. I wanted to stay in the south. And although I absolutely hated law school and hate the law, it was clear that what was needed was lawyers. And so I think it's passion and confidence.


HENRY HAMPTON: Change your life at all?
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Malcolm had the same kind of audacity, ah, that I think I had been taught by adults in very many different ways, all of my life. Because again, it had never occurred to me, either as a Black or as a woman, that I couldn't make a difference or that I couldn't be anything. And Malcolm sort of elevated that, ah, to a different level because he was blunt where King was tactful. They were both smart, ah, both extraordinarily eloquent and articulate. He was, he could, he could say the anger while King could, could, could, could do the, the softer, encouraging, persuasion, pushing, prodding, ah, but, ah, you know, he, ah, was a reinforcing, ah, person, ah, at a different time and at a, and, and responded to a different need in, in us who didn't, cause, you know, it was always hard to try to be half as good as Dr. King. Even though we believed in non violence it was also very good to have somebody vet, ah, the other side, ah, and there always need to be multiple voices with multiple strategies, ah, pursuing social change.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: I petered out, sorry.
HENRY HAMPTON: That's fine.