Women Of Black History: 5 Things To Know About Activist And Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

February 4, 2017  |  

Eleanor Holmes Norton has spent the majority of her life fighting for what’s right. Not only has she done so as an activist and lawyer, but also as a Democratic delegate to the House of Representatives (among many other things). It’s a position she currently holds in congress representing D.C. You may not recognize her name, but the 79-year-old has made history a few times over in the fight for civil rights and women’s rights. As a lawyer for the ACLU, she’s even had to defend the likes of George Wallace in the fight to stand up for free speech — even when it’s hate speech (something she wasn’t happy about). She’s done a lot not only for Black people, but women as well. That’s probably why part of her story was shared in the Amazon series Good Girls Revolt (she was played by Joy Bryant). Here are five things you should know about the activist, Ivy league graduate (shout out to Yale), lawyer, and U.S. representative.

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Thank you, D.C., for coming out in record-breaking numbers to our D.C. statehood hearing. With the help of statehood activists, we significantly outdistanced our best number of cosponsors in both the Senate and the House. Today, we have gotten even more cosponsors in both houses. I thanked Senator Tom Carper at the hearing, and again today, for flying right past the Republicans and others who think hearings should be held only when it is time for markup and passage of a bill. It would be great for residents to write or email him to thank him, as well. Residents understood that, as a first step, we had to make Congress give official recognition to our bill, as the Senate did with the first-ever Senate hearing on statehood. Senator Carper's courage and principled initiative have challenged us to pick up the momentum the hearing has given us, and, in large, our statehood movement. Watch for news of next steps, and join statehood leaders in taking statehood to the next level. Please become a part of our growing statehood movement.

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She Was an Organizer for the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee During the Civil Rights Movement

While in college, Norton had been arrested for organizing and participating in protests and sit-ins in multiple states, including D.C., Ohio and Maryland. By the time she got to law school at Yale, she traveled to Mississippi to take part in the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 in the hopes of registering as many Blacks as she could to vote. While the campaign wasn’t able to get as many people as volunteers would have liked registered, and many participants were harassed, assaulted and a few workers and residents were even killed, it had a major impact on the civil rights movement. Such contributions put the spotlight on the plight of both people in the South not being able to practice their right to vote, but also the violence civil rights workers were being subjected to. It was said that Norton’s time with SNCC is what inspired her to make activism a life-long commitment.

Fannie Lou Hamer Was Her Mentor

While organizing for SNCC in Mississippi and attending law school, Norton met Hamer after she had been jailed and beaten. She called the civil rights leader a mentor whose gift for rallying people through her speeches was unmatched.

“I met this woman who had six years of education, yet she had a gift for synthesis, for bringing together ideas,” Norton told the Washington Post. “And the way she said it was a marvel to behold. There are a whole lot of preachers out there and they can preach up a storm but the level of analysis is not always there.” Out of all of the people she worked with during that time, Norton told the publication that Hamer had the biggest impact on her. “I miss her more than anyone else in the movement.”

She Was Part of the Landmark Newsweek Case

After working as an assistant legal director of the the American Civil Liberties Union, Norton ended up representing 60 women who worked at Newsweek. They filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stating that the publication would only allow men to be reporters. With Norton as their lawyer, the women won their case and Newsweek dropped their policy, allowing women reporters. This story was brought to the small screen for the aforementioned Amazon show Good Girls Revolt.

As Head of New York’s Human Rights Commission, She Used Her Platform to Fight Discrimination Against Women

Following her win with the women of Newsweek, she became the head of the New York City Human Rights Commission, appointed in 1970 by Mayor John Lindsay. Norton held some of the first cases focused on discrimination against women. She used her role as an opportunity to remind people that sex discrimination against women was indeed against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A true feminist, Norton wrote pieces for and contributed to the creation of all sorts of published collections and publications. Those works include Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From the Women’s Liberation MovementWomen’s Rights Law Reporter, which was the first legal periodical focused on women’s rights (she was on the founding advisory board), and Norton also signed the Black Woman’s Manifesto.

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#TBT

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She Was The First Woman Chair of the U.S. EEOC

Norton was the first woman to be appointed Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Of course, she used this opportunity to set up regulations that stated that sexual harassment is in violation of civil rights laws as a form of sexual discrimination.

 

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