With a career spanning fifty years, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was an educator, civil rights advocate, and writer. In 1963, she was the only woman on the planning committee for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Anna Arnold Hedgeman was born in 1899 in Marshalltown, Iowa. Her family later moved to Anoka, where they were the only African American family. Hedgeman’s father stressed religion, education, and hard work.
In 1918, Hedgeman graduated from high school and was the first African American to attend Hamline University. In 1922, she was the first African American to graduate from Hamline. In college, she attended a lecture by W. E. B. Du Bois and was inspired to be a teacher. However, after graduation, Hedgeman was unable to find a teaching job in St. Paul public schools because she was black. She accepted a teaching position at a historically black school: Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi.
Hedgeman’s experience in the South was a rude awakening to racism. Her first encounter with the South’s Jim Crow segregation laws occurred on her train ride to Mississippi. From St. Paul to Chicago, Hedgeman rode in the dining car, which was open to blacks and whites. However, the conductor told her that when the train reached Cairo, Illinois, she had to sit in the “colored” car behind the train’s engine, which was dirty and overcrowded, and she was banned from the dining car.
Hedgeman taught at Rust College for two years. Upon her return to Minnesota, she was still unable to find a teaching job because of discrimination, so she changed careers. In 1924, Hedgeman became an executive director of the black branch of the YWCA in Springfield, Ohio. The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) at the time maintained segregated facilities for blacks and whites. From 1924 to 1938, Hedgeman worked in several positions with the YWCA in Ohio, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. In 1933, she married Merritt A. Hedgeman, an opera and folk musician.
In 1944, Hedgeman was appointed executive director of the National Council for a Permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), where she led the fight against employment discrimination and lobbied for a permanent FEPC agency. From 1954 to 1958, she served in the cabinet of New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr., where she was the first black woman to hold such a position. Hedgeman left after becoming frustrated with gender discrimination and the mayor’s inaction on progressive housing policies. In 1959, she was an associate editor and columnist for the New York Age newspaper. In 1960, she unsuccessfully ran for congress, and in 1965 for city council president (both in New York City).
In 1963, A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bayard Rustin organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The planning committee consisted of the “Big Six” —leaders from civil rights organizations, which included King, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Randolph, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; Roy Wilkins, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); James Farmer, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); John Lewis, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); and Whitney Young, Urban League.
Hedgeman was the only woman on the committee. She urged the men to include women in the planning, but they ignored her. Women were also not included as speakers at the march, but instead, Randolph planned to say a few words about women activists. Hedgeman was furious, so at the next meeting, she read a statement to the men:
“In light of the role of the Negro women in the struggle for freedom and especially in light of the extra burden they have carried because of the castration of the Negro man in this culture, it is incredible that no woman should appear as a speaker at the historic March on Washington Meeting at the Lincoln Memorial.”
Hedgeman suggested Myrlie Evers or Diane Nash as speakers. The committee selected Evers, but she was stuck in traffic, so Daisy Bates spoke. Despite these struggles, the march was a success, and Hedgeman organized 40,000 people from the National Council of Churches to participate.
Hedgeman was a founding member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966. She also published two memoirs and continued advocating for African Americans and women until the mid-1980s when her health declined.
Hedgeman died at age ninety in 1990 in New York. Hamline University dedicated The Hedgeman Center for Student Diversity Initiatives and Programs in her honor.
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