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Sat, 07.28.1928

Anne McCarty Braden, Journalist, and Activist born

Anne McCarty Braden

*Anne McCarty Braden was born on this date in 1924.  She was a white-American civil rights activist, journalist, and educator.   

Anne McCarty was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Gambrell N. McCarty & Anita D. (Crabbe) McCartyand raised in rigidly segregated Anniston, Alabama; Braden grew up in a white, middle-class family that accepted southern racism wholeheartedly. A devout Episcopalian, Braden was bothered by racial segregation but didn’t question it until her college years at Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia.

As she grew older, she experienced what has been framed as a "racial conversion narrative," a conversion of almost religious intensity," and "turning myself inside out and upside down."  After working on newspapers in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, Anne Braden returned to Kentucky as a young adult to write for The Louisville Times.  While working there, Anne met fellow newspaperman Carl Braden, a left-wing trade unionist. The couple married in 1948 and had three children: James, Anita, and Elizabeth.  Also, in 1948, she and her husband immersed themselves in Henry Wallace's run on the Progressive Party for the presidency.

Soon after Wallace's defeat, they left mainstream journalism to apply their writing talents to the interracial left wing of the labor movement through the FE (Farm and Equipment Workers) Union, representing Louisville's International Harvester employees.  Even as the postwar labor movement splintered and grew less militant, racial justice causes heated up. In 1950, Braden spearheaded a hospital desegregation drive in Kentucky. She endured her first arrest in 1951 when she led a delegation of southern white women organized by the Civil Rights Congress to Mississippi to protest the execution of Willie McGee, a Black man convicted of the rape of a white woman, Willette Hawkins.  

In 1954, Andrew and Charlotte Wade, a Black couple who knew the Bradens through association, approached them with a proposal that would drastically alter all lives involved.  Like many other Americans after World War II, the Wades wanted to buy a house in a suburban neighborhood. Because of Jim Crow housing practices, the Wades had been unsuccessful in purchasing a home independently for months. The Bradens agreed to purchase the home for the Wades.  On May 15, 1954, Wade and his wife spent their first night in their new home in the Louisville suburb of Shively, Kentucky. Upon discovering that Black people had moved in, white neighbors burned a cross in front of the house, shot out windows, and condemned the Bradens for buying it on the Wades' behalf. This was two days before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against public schools' racial segregation policy in Brown v. Board of Education.  Six weeks later, amid constant community tensions, the Wades' new house was dynamited one evening while they were out.  

The actual bombers were never sought nor brought to trial. McCarthyism affected the ordeal. Instead of addressing the segregationists' violence, the investigators alleged that the Bradens and others helping the Wades were affiliated with the Communist Party and made that the main subject of concern.  Nonetheless, in October 1954, Braden and five other whites were charged with sedition.  After a sensationalized trial, Carl Braden, the perceived ringleader, was convicted of sedition and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. As Anne and the other defendants awaited a similar fate, Carl served eight months but got out on a $40,000 bond. 

Blacklisted from local employment, the Bradens took jobs as field organizers for the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), a small, New Orleans-based civil rights organization whose mission was to solicit white southern support for the beleaguered southern civil rights movement.  In the years before southern civil rights violations made national news, the Bradens developed their media through SCEF's monthly newspaper, The Southern Patriot, and numerous pamphlets and press releases publicizing major civil rights campaigns.  Her 1958 book The Wall Between helped place the Bradens among the civil rights movement's most dedicated white allies.  Anne Braden and her husband Carl were two of the most hated people of the 1950s and 1960s by the powers that were in the American South. As whites of impeccable Southern credentials, they gave a lie to the myth that all Southern whites opposed the civil rights movement.   

Carl Braden died suddenly of a heart attack on February 18, 1975. After Carl's death, Anne Braden remained among the nation's most outspoken white anti-racist activists. She instigated the formation of a new regional multiracial organization, the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice (SOC), which initiated battles against environmental racism. She became an instrumental voice in the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition of the 1980s and the two Jesse Jackson presidential campaigns.

She also organized racial divides in the environmental, women's, and anti-nuclear movements that sprang up in that decade.  In 1977, she became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP), an American nonprofit publishing organization.

Braden received the American Civil Liberties Union's first Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty in 1990 for her contributions to civil liberties. As she aged, her activism focused more on Louisville, where she remained a leader in anti-racist drives and taught social justice history classes at the University of Louisville and Northern Kentucky University.  In 2005, she joined Louisville antiwar demonstrations in a wheelchair.  She co-founded the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and continued involvement in local activism addressing modern concerns of police brutality, environmental racism, and LGBT rights.  Braden was also affiliated with the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond.

She became a supporter of the American Civil Rights Movement at a time when it was unpopular among Southern whites.  She once said, “Either you find a way to oppose the evil, or the evil becomes part of you, and you are a part of it, and it winds itself around your soul like the arms of an octopus... If I did not oppose it, I was... responsible for its sins.”  Anne Braden died on March 6, 2006, at Jewish Hospital in Louisville and was buried at Eminence Cemetery in Kentucky.   

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