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Black History Month: Mae Mallory

February is Black History Month; originally started as a way to educate people about Black Americans and their contributions, successes, and struggles, it has continued to be a time for acknowledging, commemorating, and appreciating the role of Black people and Black communities in the history of the United States. We have Black organizers to thank for the birth of many modern-day programs that enact community care. Their bravery, creativity, compassion and commitment to the service others are critically important values that we strive to embody in our work today. The legacy of Black Americans should be celebrated and honored; the achievements, accomplishments, and contributions of the Black community must be kept alive. Their stories are a critical part of our history and our work of growing food justice today and tomorrow. Follow along as we highlight different Black folks and organizations during Black History Month.

Mae Mallory was a radical civil rights activist, Black Power movement leader, school desegregation organizer, and strong proponent of Black armed self-defense.

Mae Mallory was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1927. At 12 years old, she moved with her mother to Harlem for economic prosperity. They were among the thousands of African Americans who migrated to the North to build new futures. Mae Mallory started her new life in New York as a domestic worker for white families, cleaning their homes for very little compensation. At the same time, she worked as a factory worker, where she and several Black women were denied membership to unions. The exploitation and dehumanization of working conditions launched her into organizing and fighting for the rights of Black laborers in the 50s.

Mallory also became politically active in the education system. With her own two children in school, she about the conditions of the school – cramped classrooms, lack of resources, and untrained teachers. Three years after Brown vs Board of Education, she knew there was much more to be done. She went to the New York City Board of Education Public Hearing and announced that the schools in New York City were no different than that of the South. Her testimony pressured the board to construct a new school building and hire new teachers.

In 1956, she joined and became a spokesperson for the “Harlem Nine,” a group of Black mothers who were outspoken about the conditions of Black schools and called for school integration. Many women, like Mallory, could only find affordable apartments far away in areas where racist zoning policies funneled their children to underfunded and overcrowded schools. The Harlem Nine pushed for thousands of parents to move their children to racially integrated schools. With the help of a Black lawyer, Paul Zuber, the Harlem Nine were able to win their lawsuit and continue their fight for school desegregation.

Later, Mallory went on to support the Freedom Riders. While in Monroe, North Carolina, on August 27, 1961, a group of white residents attacked the Freedom Riders. The same day, the sheriff was called by a white couple to report that Mallory had ‘kidnapped’ them. In 1964, she was wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 16-20 years in prison. Throughout her imprisonment, she continued to advocate for Black separatism, socialism, and self-defense.

Mae Mallory remained an advocate for the liberation of oppressed people everywhere and an end to Western imperialist powers. This included her participating in demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the U.S. occupation of the Dominican Republic. Mallory was committed to the struggle for justice for Black people in the United States and abroad up until her death in 2007.