Civil rights activist DeeDee Wright recognized by board of commissioners

Published 12:05 am Sunday, January 22, 2023

SALISBURY — When DeeDee Wright was a college sophomore, she and others met at the home of civil rights activist Corretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1972, she was studying at Clark College, now known as Clark Atlanta University, and serving as the president of the Student Government Association. While at King’s home, Wright and the group discussed their support of making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday into a federal holiday. The Student Government Association was one of the first organizations to voice support for the holiday.

“It was the first day in pursuing this dream about the King having a holiday and was done by the Atlanta University Center students,” Wright said. “I’m very proud of that and to know that we played a minute part of getting this day together.”

During the Jan. 17 meeting of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, Wright received a resolution recognizing her for her civil rights activism over the years. The meeting was the day after the nation celebrated this year’s MLK Day.

“This is my friend DeeDee Wright and we served on the social services board together for many years and I thought it very appropriate to have her come tonight and receive this resolution,” Commissioner Judy Klusman said.

Part of the resolution read: “Now therefore be it resolved that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners does hereby name Jan. 16 as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in honoring his life and legacy through the promotion of justice, peace, service and community engagement.”

“It is indeed a privileged pleasure to receive this award,” Wright said.

Wright was born in Greenville, South Carolina. As just a 15-year-old teenager, she and seven other African-Americans made national headlines for staging a sit-in in the segregated Greenville Public Library. Included among the eight was a young Jesse Jackson. The group was arrested for disorderly conduct.

The sit-in resulted in the library system’s integration, the charges on the Greenville Eight were eventually dropped and Wright’s career as a civil rights activist began.

In 1961, Wright participated in a march with 187 students and adult leaders on the South Carolina state capitol building. The group carried signs demanding greater civil rights protections and criticizing the state’s leaders for not passing laws to end segregation. The protesters were arrested for “breach of peace.” The case, known as “Edwards v South Carolina” went up to the South Carolina Supreme Court where the charges were upheld. Wright was one of the plaintiffs in the trial. It was then tried in-front of the United States Supreme Court and South Carolina was found to be in the wrong because it had infringed upon the protestors’ rights of freedom of speech and assembly.

Wright now lives in Salisbury and recently wrote a book about her life and activism titled “The (W)right Thing: My Life in the Civil Rights Movement and Beyond.” When asked what’s next for her, Wright said “there’s still much work to be done.” She plans on focusing on education and political matters in the county.