Jean Elizabeth Wiley, a renowned Bay Area scholar, journalist, teacher and activist, transitioned on Dec. 9, 2019. In her wide-ranging work, she demonstrated the possibilities of Black life in America, while spending the majority of her years pushing against the boundaries and barriers designed to limit political and social access for future generations.
She was born in 1942 in Baltimore, Md., to Elizabeth Boyer, a school cafeteria worker, and Joseph Wiley, a house painter. The two worked to ensure that Wiley and her twin sisters, Lois and Joyce, would be among the growing numbers of Black first-generation college students.
At Morgan State College Wiley was a member of the debate team, and helped lay the groundwork that eventually led them to a national tournament at Harvard University. According to the late Morgan State Professor Harold B. Chinn, Jean Wiley was the best debater with whom he had ever worked.
In 1963, Jean was arrested in Baltimore for sitting in, a historic moment that taught her much about the power and necessity of resistance. In due course, Wiley worked for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as media relations coordinator and later as the national communications director for SNCC’s Julian Bond in his 1965 campaign for the Georgia State Legislature.
In 1971, she moved to California and worked for the WHUR radio station in Washington, D.C., as one of only three African American women reporters covering the murder trial of Angela Davis.
Wiley is survived by her son Cabral Stuckey Wiley; granddaughter Breijanee Wiley; great-granddaughters Shariyah Harris and Narii Parker; sisters Joyce Dyson and Lois Wiley Benjamin; nieces Shiree Dyson and Ayisha Dyson and nephews Keith Dyson, Touré Dyson, and Malcolm Wiley.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the SNCC Legacy Project: sncclegacyproject.