Pioneering Black feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes dies at 84

Dorothy Pitman Hughes, the Black feminist pioneer, child welfare lawyer and social activist who toured the country speaking with Gloria Steinem in the 1970s and appeared with her in one of the most iconic photographs of the second feminist movement, has died. He was 84 years old.

Hughes died on Dec. 1 in Tampa, Florida, at the home of his daughter and son-in-law, said Maurice Sconiers of Sconiers Funeral Home in Columbus, Georgia. His daughter, Delethia Ridley Malmsten, said the cause was old age.

Although they came to their feminist activism from different places – Hughes from his community-based work and Steinem from journalism – the two formed a powerful speaking partnership in the early 1970s, traveling the country at a time when feminism was seen mainly by whites and. middle class, division dating behind the origins of the American women’s movement. Steinem credited Hughes with helping him become comfortable with public speaking.

In one of the most famous pictures of the time, taken in October 1971, the two raise their right arms in the Black Power salute. The photograph is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Hughes, whose work has always been based on community activism, organized the first battered women’s shelter in New York City and founded the New York City Agency for Child Development to expand child care services in the city. But he was perhaps best known for his work helping dozens of families at the community center he founded on Manhattan’s West Side, offering day care, job training, advocacy training and more.

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“She took families off the street and gave them jobs,” Malmsten, her daughter, told The Associated Press on Sunday, reflecting on what she thought was her mother’s most important job.

Steinem, too, paid tribute to Hughes’ community service. “My friend Dorothy Pitman Hughes owned a daycare center on the west side of Manhattan,” Steinem said in an email. “We met in the 70’s when I was writing at that childcare center, and we became talking partners and lifelong friends. He will be missed, but if we keep telling his story, he will always inspire us all.” Laura L. Lovett, whose nickname for Hughes, “With her raised fist,” came out last year, told Ms. Magazine that Hughes “identified herself as a woman, but emphasized her femininity in her experiences and basic needs for safety, food, shelter and childcare.” Born Dorothy Jean Ridley on Oct. 2, 1938, in Lumpkin, Georgia, Hughes became involved in activism at an early age, according to a statement written by her family. When she was 10, her father was nearly beaten to death and left on the family’s doorstep. The family believes she was attacked by the Ku Klux. Klan, and Hughes decided to devote himself to helping others through activism.

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He moved to New York City in the late 1950s when he was 20 and worked as a salesman, nightclub singer and house cleaner. In the 1960s he became involved in the civil rights movement and other causes, working with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and others.

In the late 1960s, she established her own daycare center on West 80th St. in St. Louis.

Lovett wrote last year: “He realized that the challenges of caring for children were deeply entangled with issues of racism, poverty, drug abuse, substandard housing, welfare hotels, job training and the Vietnam War.”

It was at the center that Hughes met Steinem, then a reporter writing a story for New York Magazine. They became friends and, from 1969 to 1973, spoke across the country at college campuses, community centers and other venues about issues of gender and race.

“Dorothy’s style was to expose the discrimination she saw in the white women’s movement,” Lovett told Mrs. proof that this obstacle can be overcome.” In the early 1970s Hughes also helped found, with Steinem, the Women’s Action Alliance, a broad network of women’s rights activists aimed at coordinating resources and pushing for equality at the national level. Although Hughes was often credited with founding Ms. Magazine and Steinem at the time and biographer Lovett says he helped promote the idea, he had no formal role in the magazine.

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“It was our differences in experience that made us good study partners,” Steinem said. He recalled working with Hughes to protest so-called “welfare hotels” in New York for poor families in the 1970s. “Dorothy was instrumental in exposing the living conditions there,” Steinem said. “He was really a human rights activist in the community.” By the 1980s, Hughes had moved to Harlem and opened an office supply business, Harlem Office Supply, a rare stationery store at the time run by a Black woman. But he was forced to sell the store when a Staples opened nearby, part of President Bill Clinton’s Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone program.

He recounts his experience in the 2000 book, “Wake Up and Smell the Dollars! Whose City Is It In!: One Woman’s Struggle Against Sexism, Discrimination, Racism, Disarmament, and Disarmament. Hughes was featured in “Glorias,” a 2020 film about Steinem, starring Janelle Monaé.

He is survived by three daughters: Malmsten, Patrice Quinn and Angela Hughes.

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and was automatically generated from an aggregated feed.)

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