This past Sunday, longtime pro-life activist Mildred Fay Jefferson passed away. She was the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. Her involvement in the pro-life cause dates back to the movement’s very beginning — she served as vice chairman of the board of the National Right to Life Committee in 1973 and as president of National Right to Life from 1975 to 1978. She remained active in the pro-life movement, continuing to serve as an at-large member of the NRLC board of directors until her passing.
Pro-life activists today owe a great deal of gratitude to those who launched the modern pro-life movement back in the 1970s. During that decade, the abortion issue caused many people to get involved in politics for the very first time. However, even though there was plenty of enthusiasm and ambition, the pro-life movement often lacked financial backing and political experience. Furthermore, infighting between organizations hindered pro-life progress during the 1970s and early 1980s. The pro-life movement has not always done a great job chronicling its own history, so many do not realize the difficult and painstaking work that Mildred Jefferson and others did in building institutions that continue to serve pro-lifers well to this day.
I got the chance to know Dr. Jefferson when I was a post-doctoral researcher at the Harvard-MIT Data Center from 2002 to 2004. She was a regular at pro-life meetings in Massachusetts and would often attend pro-life gatherings and forums at Harvard and other local colleges and universities. She always took an interest in meeting and mentoring young people. One favorite memory occurred after National Right to Life’s Proudly Pro-Life Dinner in New York City in 2004. Dr. Jefferson needed a ride to Boston. She graciously accepted our offer of a seat on a van containing about 17 college students. During the entire trip home she informed and entertained all of us with great stories about the early days of the pro-life movement. Her kindness, warmth, and joie de vivre will be missed. RIP.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute.