Dorothy Cotton – Backbone of the Civil Rights Movement


On Wednesday, Congresswoman Barbara Lee released this statement upon the passing of Civil Rights Leader Dorothy Cotton:

“I am deeply saddened by the loss of civil rights icon Dorothy Cotton. Women like Dorothy were the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement—unsung heroes—who devoted countless hours and dedicated themselves to  the fight for equal rights. As the Educational Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dorothy was a trailblazer. She educated African Americans about their rights and taught countless people about the power of organizing. As a close adviser to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she offered brilliant counsel to the civil rights movement.

“In recent years, students from the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center had the opportunity to spend time with her during our annual Faith & Politics Congressional Pilgrimages. Through her work with young people, Dorothy inspired the next generation to continue working for justice and equality in our community.

“I was honored to hear her thought-provoking words of courage and nonviolence when she spoke at the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris lecture series in 2011.  Her inspiring message and unwavering commitment to justice will stay in my heart forever.  I offer my sincerest condolences and prayers to Dorothy’s family, friends, and all those whose lives she touched.”



  1. No one played a more important role than Dorothy. Not only was she active in the more glamorous work of resistance, but she also engaged in what Gandhi would have called the constructive program, building the foundation for a post-segregation order through her Citizenship Education Project. In addition, she held Dr. King together emotionally when he pushed himself to his limits and faced constant death threats. “‘In the last five years of his life, no one was closer to or more emotionally supportive of Dr. King than Dorothy,’ [David] Garrow said in a phone interview.” [The Washington Post]


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