Pioneering black feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes dies at 84

In one of the most famous images of the era, taken in October 1971, the two men raised their right arms in the Black Power Salute. The photo is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Hughes, her work still rooted in community activism, organized the first shelter for battered women in New York and co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development to expand child care of children in the city. But she was perhaps best known for her work helping countless families through the community center she established on Manhattan’s West Side, providing daycare, job training, advocacy training and Moreover.

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

Steinem also paid tribute to Hughes’ community work. “My friend Dorothy Pitman Hughes ran a pioneering neighborhood daycare center in West Manhattan,” Steinem said in an email. “We met in the 70s when I wrote about this daycare, and we became talking partners and lifelong friends. She will be missed, but if we continue to tell her story, she will continue to inspire us all.

Laura L. Lovett, whose biography of Hughes, “With Her Fist Raised,” came out last year, told Ms. Magazine (which Pitman co-founded with Steinem) that Hughes “defined herself as a feminist, but rooted her feminism in her experience and in more basic needs for security, food, shelter and childcare.

Born Dorothy Jean Ridley on October 2, 1938 in Lumpkin, Georgia, Hughes was involved in activism from a young age, according to an obituary written by her family. When she was 10, he says, her father was almost beaten to death and left at the family’s doorstep. The family believed he had been attacked by the Ku Klux Klan and Hughes decided to devote himself to helping others through activism.

She moved to New York in the late 1950s when she was nearly 20 and worked as a saleswoman, nightclub singer, and housekeeper. By the 1960s, she had become 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 West 80th St. community center, providing care for children and also support for their parents.

“She realized that childcare issues were deeply intertwined with issues of racial discrimination, poverty, drug abuse, poor housing, social hotels, job training and even the war in Vietnam,” Lovett wrote last year. Hughes “recognized that the strongest anchor of local community action centered on children and worked to repair the roots of inequality in his community”.

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

“Dorothy’s style was to call out the racism she saw in the white women’s movement,” Lovett said in Ms. Proof That Obstacle Could Be Overcome.

In the 1980s, Hughes was becoming an entrepreneur. She had moved to Harlem and opened an office supply company, Harlem Office Supply, the rare stationery at the time run by a black woman. But she was forced to sell the store when a Staples opened nearby, as part of President Bill Clinton’s Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone program.

She would recall some of her experiences in the 2000 book, “Wake Up and Smell the Dollars!” Who owns this downtown anyway! : One woman’s struggle against sexism, classism, racism, gentrification and the empowerment zone. »

Hughes was portrayed in “The Glorias,” the 2020 film about Steinem, by actress Janelle Monaé.

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


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