Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

A Life of Enduring Impact

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

A Life of Enduring Impact

Article excerpt

Anne Braden, who died in March at age 81, was not as famous as Rosa Parks or Coretta Scott King. But her contributions to social change in our country were just as important as theirs, and for many her example was just as inspiring.

Anne Braden was a white Southerner. She was born in Louisville, Ky., and raised in Anniston, Ala., in a fairly well-off Episcopalian family during the 1920s and '30s, when segregation and white supremacy were pervasive and virtually unquestioned. After college in Virginia, she returned to Alabama as a newspaper reporter. In later years, Braden often said that covering the Birmingham courthouse, where unequal justice was handed out according to skin color, was what really radicalized her.

When she took a job at the (now defunct) Louisville Times, Braden began to find ways to act on her growing outrage at racial injustice. She met and married Carl Braden, who at the time was the labor reporter at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Carl was from a working-class southern Indiana family, and through his involvement with the labor movement was connected with a network of left-wing activists in the city--the remnants of the New Deal era's communist-led Popular Front.

Anne Braden's first public political act came through those connections. In an interview available on the Veterans of Hope Web site, Braden recalls that, in 1952, she traveled with a delegation of white women to Jackson, Miss., to protest plans to execute Willie McGee. McGee was a black man widely believed (outside Mississippi) to have been framed for the rape of a white woman. The women asked to see the governor. They were, instead, placed in "protective custody" for the day. While in jail Braden spoke with a police officer who became very angry that a Southern white woman was defending a black man. "He turned around like he was going to hit me," Braden recalled, "but he didn't because this other cop stopped him.... All of my life, police had been on my side.... All of a sudden I realized that I was on the other side."

About that same time, Braden said she received a letter from William Patterson, a Communist Party, organizer and head of the Civil Rights Congress that had organized the McGee defense. …

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