Throughout her life and work, Marian Wright Edelman has been at the heart of this cantury's most dramatic civil rights and child advocacy struggles. In this stirring, heartfelt memoir she pays tribute to the extrordinary mentors who helped light her way including Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Fannie Lou Hamer, and William Slaone Coffin. She celebrates the lives of her parents and the great Black Women of Bennetsville, South Carolina- Miz Tee, Miz Lucy, Miz Kate-who gave her love and guidance in her youth, as well as the many teachers and figures who inspired her education at Spelman College and empowered her early as an activist in the 1960's.
Illustrated with many of the author's personal photographs, Lanterns also includes a "Parents' Pledge" and "Twenty-Five More Lessons for Life" to guide, protect, and love our children every day so that they will become, in Edelman's moving vision, the healing agents for national transformation.
Marian Wright Edelman is, without doubt, the country's most renowned advocate for children. She has become a legendary leader as a child advocate and president of the Children's Defense Fund. There is scarcely a child in this country who has not benefited from her decades of work on the issues of hunger, poverty, child care, and the Head Start program. In the early 1980s, I admired her from afar when I was a regular attendee of the CDF's annual conference. Today, I consider myself privileged to work with her on a regular basis as one of the founding members of the Black Community Crusade for Children and as a board member of the Children's Defense Fund.
Marian is so humble and self-effacing that you sometimes forget what an extraordinary woman she is. She is so focused on what children need today that she never talks about all that she has accomplished and her role as a civil rights activist. In her new book, Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors, we get a chance to understand Marian's story more fully: who influenced her, who motivated her, and who shaped her as she became a full-time crusader for poor children. In this wonderfully written memoir, Marian gives us a most precious glimpse of her personal life, which she uses to help us understand how we can become better parents, better citizens, and better people.
Marian's first mentors were her parents, Arthur Jerome and Maggie Leola Bowen Wright. Her parents taught by example the meaning of family, morals, and Christian love. Marian explains, "I first saw God's face in the face of my parents and heard God's voice in theirs, as they cooed, read, told stories, and sang to me." What a powerful message for all of us who are parents, reminding us of the important role we play in our children's lives. We learn that it was from her parents that Marian learned that she could achieve anything her heart desired through hard work. It was also from her parents that she received something that those of us who know her understand she values above all else her faith. Marian's faith is not a passive faith that accepts injustice, but an active faith that constantly challenges her to confront and overcome difficulties. She writes: "Daddy, a teacher-preacher who never raised his voice in the pulpit and who tried to educate our congregation's mind as well as touch its heart, taught that faith required action and that action could be sustained only by faith in the face of daily discouragement and injustice in our segregated Southern society."
Lanterns reminds us that Marian's life was not just shaped by her parents and her community in rural Bennettsville, S.C., but by Spelman College, which opened a whole different world to her. It was at Spelman in 1960 where she first heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and her life was never the same. Marian decided that the way she could change America and make her contribution to the cause of civil rights was to become a lawyer. She applied and was accepted to Yale Law School, where she first met Malcolm X. Marian talks about the power and intelligence that she witnessed in him first hand, and how during these years she worked with Medgar Evers and Bob Moses in Mississippi, when that state was one of the most dangerous in the country to be a civil rights worker. Those of us who know Marian sometimes forget that she was the first black woman lawyer in the state of Mississippi, and literally risked her life fighting for freedom in the turbulent 1960s.
Lanterns finishes with Twenty-Five More Lessons for Life, and it would do us all good to read these lessons and act on them. Marian's book welcomes the new millennium with a focus, not on senseless violence or how to create more personal wealth or have better sex, but on principles by which to live our lives. She reminds us of the revolutionary role that mentors played in our lives, and our responsibility to do the same for others.