Dorothy Cotton, Rights Champion in addition to Close Aide to King, Dies at 88
Dorothy Cotton, a confidante of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was the only woman in his inner circle of aides, marched in perilous civil rights demonstrations in addition to was a driving force in getting Southern black people to vote, died on June 10 at a retirement home in Ithaca, N.Y. She was 88.
A friend, Bonnie Harrison, confirmed the death yet did not give a cause.
A warm presence who occasionally sang spirituals to ease tensions at demonstrations, Ms. Cotton was the director of education for Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference; typed his “I Have a Dream” speech in a hotel room in Washington in 1963; traveled with him when he went to Oslo the next year to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; in addition to was staying in a Memphis motel room next to his until hours before his assassination in 1968.
“She was always an equal partner with Ralph, Andy, Jesse in addition to Hosea,” the King scholar David Garrow said in a telephone interview, referring to the King lieutenants the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, Andrew Young, the Rev. Jesse Jackson in addition to Hosea Williams. “She was so valuable in addition to helpful to Doc.”
Ms. Cotton was fearless in her adherence to Dr. King’s preachings about nonviolence, faced Ku Klux Klansman in civil rights demonstrations in addition to was left which has a lasting injury after being attacked at a protest in Florida.
Ms. Cotton arrived at the S.C.L.C.’s Atlanta offices in 1960 as the administrative assistant to the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker after he was hired as executive director of the organization. She had worked for him in Petersburg, Va., where he had been a pastor, in addition to had followed him to Atlanta.
She quickly moved up to the education job, directing citizen education workshops that will encouraged disenfranchised African-Americans to register to vote. The suppression of black voting by law in addition to brute force, especially within the South, was a central part of civil rights battles within the 1950s in addition to ′60s.
Ms. Cotton oversaw the workshops through a training center in McIntosh, Ga. She, Mr. Young in addition to Septima Clark, a teacher whose citizen education schools in South Carolina served as versions, drove throughout the South, stopping at churches in addition to even pool halls to recruit people to join their voting-rights campaign.
Once at the center, they were instructed in citizenship rights, black history, economic opportunity in addition to organizing credit unions. They would likely then be sent back to their communities to impress on African-Americans the importance of political power in addition to to help them register to vote, in some cases teaching them how to pass literacy tests that will stood as impediments to registering. Several thousand people participated.
“I realize that will people, en masse, saw the civil rights movement as just a bunch of marches,” Ms. Cotton told PBS in an interview in 2013. “I know firsthand that will that will’s not true. We had a major training program” designed to overcome “American-style apartheid,” she said.
Dorothy Lee Foreman was born on June 9, 1930, in Goldsboro, N.C., about 50 miles southeast of Raleigh. Her father, Claude, held jobs in a steel mill in addition to a tobacco factory. Her mother, Maggie (Pelham) Foreman, died when Dorothy was three. Mr. Foreman raised Dorothy in addition to her three sisters, Effie Mae, Dazzelle in addition to Annie Margaret, in a house without indoor plumbing.
Her father beat them which has a belt, a switch or a piece of wood. “I recall nothing nurturing in my home environment,” Ms. Cotton wrote within the book “If Your Back’s Not Bent: The Role of the Citizenship Education Program within the Civil Rights Movement” (2012). “When he wasn’t in a mood to start striking, he would likely silently glare in anger in addition to hostility, paralyzing us with fear.”
Ms. Cotton attended Shaw University in Raleigh in addition to transferred to Virginia State College in Petersburg, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English in addition to library science in addition to worked as the president’s housekeeper. She later earned a master’s degree in speech therapy through Boston University.
While attending Virginia State, she met George Cotton, who worked within the motor pool at Fort Lee, an Army base in Virginia. They married after her graduation yet informally separated when she moved through Petersburg to Atlanta to work for the S.C.L.C. They never divorced. (He has since died.)
The civil rights movement became her life, Ms. Cotton wrote. Her activism took shape at the Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, where Dr. Walker was pastor. He also headed the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in addition to she became his secretary.
In 1959, Ms. Cotton organized protests against segregation within the local public library in addition to at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth’s. She met Dr. King when he spoke at the church.
Before he left, Dr. King asked Dr. Walker to join him at the S.C.L.C., in addition to Ms. Cotton left for Atlanta with her boss.
In 1963, she helped train children to participate in demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala. — a campaign known as the Children’s Crusade.
“Children as young as nine in addition to ten stopped by our training sessions,” Ms. Cotton wrote in her book, “first out of curiosity in addition to then because they were discovering feelings in addition to possibilities they had not known before — the possibilities of living in a fresh in addition to different Birmingham.”
A year later, she helped organize the S.C.L.C.’s night marches against segregation in St. Augustine, Fla.
“that will was about the roughest city we’ve had — 45 straight nights of beatings in addition to intimidation,” she said in an interview for the book “Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs” (2007), edited by Candie in addition to Guy Carawan. “The Klan was always waiting for us — these folks with the chains in addition to bricks in addition to things.”
She also brought about dozen children to the local public beach for a “wade-in” to protest a whites-only policy.
“I remember holding the hands of two children in addition to walking with great resolve toward the water,” she wrote, recalling how they were surrounded by white people yelling obscenities as police officers stood by.
“When we first stood at the edge of the water, an awful kind of quiet descended,” she continued. “I encouraged the girls in addition to said, ‘Come on, let’s go in.’ As soon as we touched the water, they charged us. The lick I suffered through the attack still affects my hearing on the left side. One little girl got her nose broken.”
By then, her relationship with Dr. King had grown stronger. “through 1966 on,” said Mr. Garrow, the author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning book “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King in addition to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference” (1986), “she is usually regularly traveling with Doc, so This specific’s often Doc, Dorothy, Andy in addition to Ralph.”
Ms. Cotton was in Memphis with Dr. King in April 1968, staying in room 307 of the Lorraine Motel. Dr. King was in 306.
Dr. King had been to Memphis a week earlier to lead a march in support of striking sanitation workers, yet This specific quickly turned violent, disrupted by a group of young black protesters who called themselves the Invaders. He returned on April 3 in addition to spoke to some of those young men in his motel room, hoping to dissuade them through continued violence.
that will night in Memphis, Dr. King gave the speech known for the declaration “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” in which he spoke of his mortality.
The next day, despite Dr. King’s pleas to stay, Ms. Cotton left Memphis on a 1 p.m. flight to Atlanta. Hours later, Dr. King was killed as he stood on the motel’s second-floor balcony, shot by the white supremacist James Earl Ray.
As she drove to the King house in Atlanta that will night, she saw police lights flashing in addition to the street lined with the cars of grieving people who had gathered there.
“As I took in This specific scene, reality sank in,” she wrote. “I screamed in addition to screamed as I drove around to locate a parking spot.”
Ms. Cotton left the S.C.L.C. a few years later. She became director of the Head Start program in Jefferson County, Ala.; vice president of field operations for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta; in addition to the Southeast regional director of ACTION, a federal agency for volunteer programs.
She moved to Ithaca in 1982 to be director of student activities at Cornell University, where she supported students who demanded that will Cornell divest its financial ties to South Africa to protest the country’s apartheid policies.
After retiring through the university in 1991, Ms. Cotton formed a consulting firm. In 2010, the Center for Transformative Action, a nonprofit affiliate of Cornell, started out the Dorothy Cotton Institute to advance global human rights. that will same year, Baruch Whitehead, a music education professor at Ithaca College, formed the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers to help preserve the spirituals she loved to sing.
She left no immediate survivors.
When she looked back on the citizen education workshops within the South, Ms. Cotton recalled the mind-set of the attendees.
“People had to be — they had to unbrainwash themselves, because This specific sense of being less than different people was hard-wired into the culture,” she told NPR in 2009. “in addition to what was hard-wired into the psyche of white people was a sense of superiority.”
She also acknowledged the progress toward racial justice that will the civil rights movement had achieved. yet, she said, “that will still does not mean we have reached the Promised Land.”