Photo credit: Emory News
This past Sunday, civil rights icon, Dorothy Cotton, passed away at her retirement home in Ithaca, New York. She was 88 years old.
Cotton, a North Carolina native, was the education director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and was considered one of the most significant unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. According to the Dorothy Cotton Institute’s website, her “leadership contributed significantly to a movement that has altered the course of social and political life in the United States and transformed the place of African Americans and all people of color in civic engagement and leadership.” The Dorothy Cotton Institute was founded by the Center for Transformative Action in 2010.
As the only woman member of the SCLC’s executive staff and Dr. King’s top adviser, Cotton developed and led the organization’s Citizenship Education Program. The program trained disenfranchised people about the importance of civic and political engagement, as well as taught them how to organize peaceful protests and voter registration activities. Cotton served in the role for 12 years and continued her work at the SCLC three years after the assassination of Dr. King.
Pictured: Dorothy Cotton with other staff members the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Photo credit: Dorothy Cotton Institute
She then went on to become the Southeastern Regional Director of ACTION, the federal agency for volunteer programs,Vice-President for Field Operations at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and Director of student activities at Cornell University. Committing her life to the work, Cotton later founded Dorothy Cotton & Associates, a consulting company that organized seminars on social change, leadership development, and individual empowerment. She also co-founded the National Citizenship School.
As stated on the Dorthy Cotton Institute website, her “lifework – based on the philosophy and practices of nonviolence, reconciliation and restoration, and grassroots leadership development – offers valuable models for human rights education, practice, and leadership, upon which the Dorothy Cotton Institute will build.” Photo credit: The Dorothy Cotton Institute
In the words of Dorothy Cotton herself, “It should not be forgotten that change is possible, as painful as it is to remember it. But change is possible.”
We thank you Ms. Cotton for helping make change possible. Rest in power.