Civil rights pioneer Addie Wyatt dies at 88

Addie Wyatt looks at a framed photo of her friend, slain civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at her Chicago home on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2005. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

March 28, 2012 10:00:00 PM PDT
The Rev. Addie Wyatt, a trailblazing leader in the fight for social justice and labor rights, died Wednesday at the age of 88.

Wyatt, who served as a co-pastor at Vernon Park Church of God on Chicago's South Side, became the highest ranking female labor union in the country. Her legacy is too great to measure, according to those at her church.

Born in Brookhaven, Mississippi, she worked at a meatpacking plant and climbed the union ranks to become the first female vice president of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. She was also a founder of the National Organization for Women and commissioned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to help start Operation Breadbasket, which grew into the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Wyatt's husband, the Rev. Claude Wyatt Jr., died last April. They were together for 69 years and founded the Vernon Park Church of God. The Rev. Willie Barrows spoke with her just last week.

"She told me, 'Really, I want to go home.' I said, 'Addie, you want to go home?' She said, 'Yes.' She said we've done enough and I want to go home," Barrows said. "She was the one that mentored me in the labor movement."

Wyatt fought tirelessly against gender and racial discrimination in the workforce. She was involved in the major Civil Rights marches and her organizing skills were utilized by six presidents.

In 1975, Wyatt was named one of Time Magazine's Women of the Year.

"Rev. Dr. Addie Wyatt was every woman because she really was part of part of the great humanitarian causes of our time," Carol Adams, president of the DuSable Museum of African-American History, said.

"Although her struggle was great in being involved in this -- quote -- man's world, she was always a lady," Maude McKay, Wyatt's sister.

"Her focus was always trying to make things better," Renee Wyatt, granddaughter, said.

Wyatt was selected by Eleanor Roosevelt to serve on President John F. Kennedy's Commission on the Status of Women.

"She established greatness all the way around the spectrum, not in one given element, but everywhere she went," Adams said.

"She would say 'Keep on going children. You all keep doing what you have to do, I'm where I want to be.' The Rev. Addie, if you knew her, she never went anywhere she didn't want to go," said Senior Pastor Jerald January. "Whether it was protesting at Selma, or marching on Washington, or being at the White House, or going to heaven, that's where she wanted to be."

Wake/Funeral Information:

The body of Rev. Addie L. Wyatt will lie in state Friday, April 6, 2012, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Vernon Park Church of God, 9011 S. Stony Island, Chicago, where she and her late husband, Rev. Claude Wyatt, co-funded decades ago.

There will be a pre-past luncheon from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Vernon Park Church of God.

Rev. Wyatt's wake will be held on Saturday, April 7, 2012 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon at the church followed by funeral services from 12 noon to 2:30 p.m.

Burial will be at the Oak Woods Cemetery, 1035 East 67th St, Chicago, IL 60637.