October 26, 2016
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Remembering Civil Rights Activist Phyllis McClure

Phyllis McClure, a dedicated civil rights activist and staunch advocate for fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board of Education, died on May 17 at her home in Washington. She was 72.

The following remembrance is from Ted Shaw, former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where McClure worked for many years.

To the LDF Family:

Yesterday I called to inform LDF of the passing of Phyllis McClure, who worked for many years in the Washington office as a community organizer and an education specialist. When I joined LDF in 1982 I worked with Phyllis and with Jean Fairfax; together they comprised LDF’s Division of Community Information Services. Phyllis was passionate about her work, and was committed to LDF. That passion and commitment remained with her beyond her years at LDF. She was a strong supporter of No Child Left Behind; we argued the merits of that law to the very end. In her last years Phyllis took on another project: she researched and wrote about Rosenwald Schools in Virginia. Rosenwald schools were funded by the Sears Roebuck magnate and established throughout the South.

I visited Phyllis last week. She spent her last days at home, surrounded by her books, with her music, with the assistance of a caregiver/nurse with whom she formed a warm friendship. We talked about life, family, books, education, the nomination of Elena Kagan, and LDF. Phyllis did not shrink from her fate. She knew that she was dying, and she chose how she wanted to do it. Even as her life was fading, she was as feisty and humorous as ever. It was a wonderfully bittersweet last visit.

After I was informed of Phyllis’ passing, it occurred to me that it came on the fifty-sixth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Yesterday I looked in vain in the New York Times for some mention of Brown. Like Phyllis, it passed quietly, with little notice. Phyllis spent much of her life working for the fulfillment of Brown’s promise. She was not famous, and relatively few people will mark her passing. But for those of us who are or who have been at LDF, the organization that litigated Brown and worked so hard to make its promise real, Phyllis’ death should not go unnoticed.

Those of you who knew Phyllis know what a loss her passing is. We were blessed to have known her. There will be a celebration of her life at a time to be announced.

Ted Shaw  


 Posted by Ron Bigler


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