Anna Arnold Hedgeman Was the Glue for the Civil Rights Movement

This is the twelfth entry in the series Honoring Black History.

A few weeks back, Marcy Sutton shared a slide deck by Tanya Reilly with me. The talk was “Being Glue” and it discussed the incredibly important (and shamefully undervalued) role of being the “glue” that holds a team together and makes them successful. That talk was concerned with technical teams, but this role is universal to any organization, collaboration, or project. In many ways, Anna Arnold Hedgeman was glue for the civil rights movement and I don’t think she gets enough credit for it.

During the Great Depression, Anna worked with New York City’s Department of Welfare, investigating racial issues. Instead of merely investigating and reporting, however, she pushed for the appointment of people from under-represented communities to civil service positions. She used her influence to bolster the visibility of minority populations and helped create employment opportunities for them at the same time. Textbook glue.

In the 1940s, she was recruited to lead a national council to lobby for the establishment of a permanent Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC). The story of the FEPC is a whole thing, but Anna’s role was connecting the federal effort to improve employment options for blacks and other minorities with numerous local FEPC Councils that were working to bring that same fairness to local and state governments. Sadly, the FEPC wasn’t successful in its ultimate goal, but it did move the needle by helping blacks enter “industries, firms, and occupations that otherwise might have remained closed to them.” And Anna was the glue.

In the 1950s, she became the first black woman to be appointed to the mayoral cabinet in New York City. Her role? Liaison between Harlem and City Hall. Glue!

In the 1960s, she helped organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (yes, that March on Washington). She reportedly recruited 40,000 protestant churchmen—all by herself!—and the march is credited with helping pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Not one to rest on her laurels, Anna co-founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) as a direct reaction to failure of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce Title VII of that very same Civil Rights Act. Glue!

I could go on, but I think that’s probably enough for you to recognize how many amazing things this one woman accomplished in her lifetime. Throughout her careers as a civil rights leader, politician, writer, and educator, Anna Arnold Hedgeman found ways to bring people together for a common cause. She was the glue for several civil rights movements and her efforts have had a lasting impact on this country. And yet she rarely gets the credit she is most assuredly due.

Never underestimate the value of someone who is the glue for your team. Thank them for their work and give them the respect they deserve.


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