Celebrating Black History Month
The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is founded, powered, and inspired by the legacy of Black heroes—it is the through-line that has carried our work for children over the past 47 years. Founder and president emerita Marian Wright Edelman calls CDF “the grandchild of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign,” born out of a need to take action for poor children in America, who have been and continue to be disproportionately Black.
During Black History Month, we honor the leaders who got us here. We also recognize that in too many ways, we are still fighting the same fights today to ensure children have access to basic necessities like food, housing, and health care, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin.
So the march continues.
How we’re still fighting for children
Words from our heroes
Quotes from Ella Josephine Baker, Unita Blackwell, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ralph Abernathy, Dorothy Height, Frederick Douglass, John Lewis, Rosa Parks, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Ruby Bridges, and Marian Wright Edelman for Black History Month.
Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a White mother’s son—we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.
This is what I know about courage: You don’t have to think about courage to have it. You don’t have to feel courageous to be courageous. You don’t sit down and say you’re going to be courageous. At the moment of action, you don’t see it as a courageous act. Courage is the most hidden thing from your eye or mind until after it’s done.
Sometimes it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off.
I am sick and tired of Black and white people of good intent giving aspirin to a society that is dying of a cancerous disease.
We have to improve life, not just for those who have the most skills and those who know how to manipulate the system. But also for and with those who often have so much to give but never get the opportunity.
It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.
I had no idea that history was being made. I was just tired of giving up.
It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, ‘Wait on time.’
Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it.
Don’t follow the path. Go where there is no path and begin the trail. When you start a new trail equipped with courage, strength and conviction, the only thing that can stop you is you!
A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back—but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you.
Join the Fight
We cannot honor the sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or recognize the contributions of Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Josephine Baker without acknowledging that their work is still unfinished. It is up to us to continue the march.
Unsung heroes: Young leaders of the Civil Rights Movement
At six years old, Ruby Bridges became the first Black student to integrate an elementary school in Louisiana. Ruby endured vicious racial slurs and threats on her life from white rioters daily, and her parents also suffered greatly for their decision; still, they persevered, driven by a desire for Ruby to have the same educational opportunities as white children.
Mississippi Freedom Summer Activists
In 1964, hundreds of young people from across the country risked their lives to bring educational opportunities and voting rights to the Black citizens of Mississippi, who endured a reign of terror and endless threats on their liberty and their lives from the state’s white residents. Their courageous campaign was set against the recent, brutal deaths of three freedom fighters—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—but the young volunteers persevered. The Children’s Defense Fund’s own CDF Freedom Schools® were modeled after the first freedom schools from 1964, and the young Servant Leaders Interns who lead them honor the legacy of Mississippi Freedom Summer volunteers every year.
Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, Claudette Colvin also challenged Jim Crow-era racial segregation. At fifteen, Claudette was arrested after she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
Little Rock Nine
Three years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregation in the nation’s schools, Black students faced fierce opposition when they attempted to enroll at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed, Terrence Roberts, Minnijean Brown, and Melba Pattillo—nine courageous, Black students known as “the Little Rock Nine” who were determined to test enforcement of Brown—became the first to integrate the school, accompanied by federal troops because of the extreme threats and racist resistance that they encountered.
The Clinton 12
The Clinton Twelve is another group of brave, Black students who challenged the Jim Crow status quo to enroll at Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee. Alfred Williams, Alvah Jay McSwain, Anna Theresser Caswell, Bobby Cain, Gail Ann Epps, Maurice Soles, Minnie Ann Dickey, Regina Turner, Robert Thacker, Ronald Gordon Hayden, William Latham, and Jo Ann Allen attended school for one day before full-scale racist riots erupted in Clinton. Eventually, their school was destroyed by dynamite to prevent Black students from safely attending.
Audrey Faye Hendricks
At nine years old, Audrey Faye Hendricks joined more than 2,000 other young people who withstood fire hoses and police dogs, and even went to jail, to protest segregation in one of the deadliest cities in the Jim Crow south, Birmingham, AL. Her story of participating in the historic Birmingham Children’s Crusade featured in the children’s book Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson, which is read in CDF Freedom Schools®.
At nine years old, Sheyann Webb was among the youngest children to participate in the first march from Selma to Montgomery, AL, known as “Bloody Sunday.” She and the other peaceful marchers were met by law enforcement on horseback and other white supremacists who wielded billy clubs and fired tear gas indiscriminately. Sheyann is known as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Smallest Freedom Fighter.”
My Black History Month Hero
The CDF Freedom Schools® program is rooted in the history and vision of the Civil Rights Movement, and Black leadership propels the program to this day. Every day at CDF Freedom Schools, young scholars learn about, reflect on, and apply the lessons of real-life Black heroes. In that spirit, we asked the staff of some of our exemplary CDF Freedom Schools sponsor organizations to tell us who inspires them and whose footsteps they seek to walk in as they serve our country’s children.
Rev. Dr. O. Leon Wood, Jr.’s heroes: W.E.B. Du Bois, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Read the blog.
More reading for Black History Month
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Read more on CDF’s blog
and Child Watch Columns
- Representation Matters: What Kamala Harris’s historic swearing-in as Vice President means for children
- Stay Awake!, a Child Watch Column
- The strong case for child allowances to fight for racial justice & against child poverty
- The Two Deadly Diseases Plaguing Our Nation—and Our Children
- Breonna Taylor and the Invisibility of Black Women and Girls in America
- Children Aren’t Immune to the COVID-19 Virus or to the Racial Inequities it is Magnifying
- Condemnation of White Supremacy
- “Black History American History,” a Child Watch Column
- A Time for Courage and Truth, a Child Watch Column