Encore: Two Women You Probably Haven’t Heard About During Black History Month

This post was originally published on Leaven for the Loaf on February 28, 2013.

Meet Mildred Jefferson and Alveda King. Either of these gifted women could have lived a quietly successful life. They chose to stand up for the right to life instead, which pretty much put an end to any hope for “quiet.”

Mildred Jefferson, M.D.
Dr. Mildred Jefferson (photo courtesy Massachusetts Citizens for Life)

I met Dr. Mildred Jefferson a couple of times, when she came to New Hampshire to testify in Concord on pro-life bills. She was petite, with a radiant smile, and she always dressed with elegance and simplicity and a hat to match. She looked quite unthreatening until she sat down and began to speak. Only then would everyone in the room realize what a powerhouse she was.

Born in 1926, she earned her bachelor’s degree at the age of 16, and went on to become the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. She was made of stern stuff. This served her well in her years as a surgeon, and even more so as she became outspoken in her defense of life and her opposition to abortion. She helped to found Massachusetts Citizens for Life in the early 1970s and later served as president of the National Right to Life Committee. From about 1970 until her death in 2010, she was a nonstop pro-life advocate.

Both times when I heard her testify, I listened to her describe the medical facts about abortion, its effects on women, and the development of the preborn child. Both times, I was indignant to the point of anger as some of our state representatives dismissed her medical experience and judgment as being somehow “ideological.” I never heard Dr. Jefferson raise her voice or utter an impatient word in reply. She knew someone with medical credentials had to go on record, even if some of the reps didn’t want to hear her. She did the same thing in State Houses all over the country. To this day, I am in awe of her energy, intelligence, and persistence.

Alveda King

Dr. Alveda King (Facebook photo)

Dr. Alveda King grew up in the civil rights movement, and her biography says “she sees the prolife movement as a continuation of the civil rights struggle.” She is the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Her doctorate, like his, is non-medical.) She is based in Georgia, although her work takes her all over the country. She is currently working with Priests for Life as pastoral associate and director of African-American outreach. A post-abortive woman herself, she is part of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, which encourages women who regret their abortions to speak up about the emotional and physical consequences they have endured.

I haven’t met her yet. I hope I will someday, just so I can thank her for what she’s doing.

This is all too brief a sketch of two women who deserve much more attention. They’re not in history books — not yet, anyway.