August 01, 2020

Marian Wright Edelman to ABA: “You and I must change”

“In these turbulent times as we face unbearable dissonance still between promise and performance, between politics and sound policy, between our capacity to prevent and alleviate depravation and our will to do so, you and I must change, like Justice Marshall did,” said longtime children’s advocate and civil rights leader Marian Wright Edelman as she accepted the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice on July 31 at the ABA Virtual Annual Meeting.

Edelman, the founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) and the first African American woman admitted to the State Bar of Mississippi said; “No one has done more to help our nation live up to its professed ideals and to end legal apartheid in America than Justice Marshall.”

Speaking of her admiration for Marshall, whose award recognizes long-term contributions by members of the legal profession to the advancement of civil rights, social justice and human rights in the United States, she said, “What makes him so special, is that he’s really always held us to what he knew America could be and his deep and unwavering belief in the dignity and right of every human being and the right of every child to have an equal chance in her own nation and his own nation and before the law.”

An advocate for disadvantaged Americans her entire professional life, Edelman for 45 years led the CDF, which has been a decisive voice for children and families.

Sharing a story about a man who paid his final respects to Marshall while he was lying in state at the U.S. Supreme Court, Edelman said the “old man” was asked why he had stood so long in line on a chilly, rainy day to say goodbye to a man he had never met. She said the man replied, “I’m here because Justice Marshall didn’t just witness change, he caused it.”

You and I must change like Justice Marshall did and not wait until someone tells us what needs to be done to build a more just nation, she said. “The overture of our nationhood, the Declaration of Independence, still is awaiting its next movement and you and I must be the foot soldiers in that movement.”

Edelman said President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation completed the first movement of American’s symphony of freedom, adding that “Justice Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and thousands of unsung white, black and brown heroes and heroines who would tear down the walls of legally sanctioned American apartheid imposed the second movement.

“Now we must together create the third movement in our nation’s symphony for freedom and justice for all,” she told event attendees.

“Now more than ever we must use our voices, our votes, our organizations to ensure that every child has everything they need to succeed and reach their God-given potential,” Edelman said. “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

The virtual event to honor Edelman also featured Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, who spoke on the past and future of civil rights and social justice in America.