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Wed, 05.09.1923

Fredda Witherspoon born

Fredda Witherspoon

*The birth of Fredda Witherspoon is celebrated on this date in 1923.  She was a Black educator and activist.  

She was born Fredda Crawford in Houston, TX., the daughter of Vanita Crawford and R. E. Crawford who worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad.  She graduated valedictorian from Booker T. Washington High School and continued her education at Bishop College, later earning a business degree from Hughes Business School.  Crawford completed three master's degrees, in Psychiatric Social Work, Psychology, and Guidance and Counseling, from the University of Chicago.

She received her last degree, a PhD in Guidance and Counseling, from Washington University in St. Louis. After the completion of her PhD, she moved to St. Louis permanently.  Fredda Crawford married Robert Witherspoon after moving to St. Louis. The couple had a son, Robert "Bob" Witherspoon, and a daughter.  

She taught at Forest Park Community College for twenty-seven years and served as the children’s youth director at the West Side Baptist Church.  She often explained that it was a necessity to put her intellectual creativity to good use, particularly within her local community. Her personal motto exemplified this line of thought: "Everyone should do all the good she can as she passes along life’s highway; time is fleeing, and life is too short to be unkind and thoughtless; we pass this way but once."  Witherspoon is best known for helping to spark the ignition that ultimately led to "Shelley v. Kramer" in 1948.

Her husband, Robert Witherspoon, was an attorney working in St. Louis. He and his wife pushed for the desegregation of Lewis Place, an African American private street in St. Louis. Like many other residential areas in the 1940s, Lewis Place used restrictive covenants to enforce segregation in the neighborhood. Fredda and Robert Witherspoon convinced a group of fair-skinned Blacks to purchase houses in Lewis place and vote against the covenants.  

This effort furthered the overarching legal battle over racially restrictive covenants and pushed the Supreme Court to overturn the constitutionality of these covenants across the United States.  She was also known for her close ties to the community, serving as the president of the Missouri Chapter of the NAACP and as vice chair of the St. Louis Urban League. Fredda Witherspoon died on August 14, 1996.   

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