Civil rights leader and icon Dorothy Cotton, who helped educate black Americans about their rights and worked with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died at the age of 88.
Cotton died at an Ithaca, New York, retirement community on Sunday afternoon, the Ithaca Journal reported. Her cause of death was not specified, but a family friend and spokesperson said she bad been battling a recent illness.
A North Carolina native, Cotton first met King in 1960 when he preached at a church she attended in Virginia. The two began working together with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which organized peaceful protests and worked for the rights of black Americans during the civil rights era. Cotton held a leading role in the group as the educational director ― one of the few high-level positions for women in the SCLC at the time.
Cotton is described as an “unsung hero” for the civil rights movement on her eponymous institute’s website. She led the Citizenship Education Program, which worked to help “ordinary people identify what was intolerable in their circumstances, envision the change they desired, learn their civil rights [and] prepare for democratic engagement” and to help foster “the transformation of often poorly educated and disenfranchised people from ‘victims’ to full citizens.”
Cotton told NPR in a 2013 interview that during the civil rights era, her work wasn’t often publicized because it “would have been shut down [for] teaching all those old black folk that they are citizens.”
The dedicated civil servant put herself through college working as a housekeeper for the university president at Shaw University before she earned an undergraduate degree from Virginia State University and a master’s degree in speech therapy from Boston University.
“She had a beautiful voice, and when things got tense, Dorothy was the one who would start up a song to relieve the tension,” Xernona Clayton, who was King’s office manager in Atlanta and organized protest marches and fundraisers, told The Associated Press.
“She had such a calming influence in her personality,” Clayton added. “She had a personality that would lend itself to people listening to her.”
more recommended stories
How Parents Are Helping Families Separated At The Border
You don’t have to be a.
NFL Players Say Trump’s Pardons Aren’t Enough To Fix A Broken System
After President Donald Trump solicited ideas about.
Blue Ivy Can’t Watch Video Of Beyoncé And Jay-Z In Bed During Concert
Beyoncé and Jay-Z might want to.
Antwon Rose Police Shooting Sparks Second Night Of Pittsburgh Protests
Hundreds of protesters enraged over an.
Stay-At-Home Dad Shows What Black Fatherhood Looks Like, 1 Video At A Time
Glen Henry is a stay-at-home dad.
The 20 Funniest Tweets From Women This Week
“I can not believe I’m drunk.
Why This Man Crusades For Mental Health After Nearly 30 Years In Prison
America’s corrections system locks away a.
Kanye West Sobs In Front Row At Louis Vuitton Fashion Show
It famously takes a lot to.
Kim Kardashian Tries To Defend Wearing Fulani Braids To The MTV Movie & TV Awards
Kim Kardashian is defending her decision.
Poet Alok Vaid-Menon: ‘I Am Part Of Something Greater Than Myself’
Poet Alok Vaid-Menon goes where few.