Mary Hamilton Wesley ( — 2002)

As remembered by Shelia Michaels

Mary Hamilton Wesley died on Monday after a seven-year battle against 4th-stage ovarian cancer. This is a stage at which the usual prognosis is less than six months. Or, as someone said, "I see: the cancer is scared of her".

Mary Hamilton, served a month in jail, in Gadsden, Alabama, for contempt of court, when she refused to answer to "Mary", insisting upon being addressed with an honorific, as "Miss Hamilton". The case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled for her, in a landmark case, in 1964 (Ex parte Mary Hamilton. Ala. Sup. Ct., 7 Div. 621). It established for minorities rights to the same courtesies and honorifics as "whites"..

In chambers, the judge told her lawyer, in front of Mary, "well, I know what I'd do if I had that little filly in my kitchen". (And he found her in contempt: those were the days!)

Mary had been a parochial school teacher of second graders, in Los Angeles, when the Freedom Rides began, in 1961. She became a Freedom Rider at semester's end. She became a leader, at Parchman Farm, & was a popular speaker for Congress of Racial Equality upon release. By the end of 1961, she became CORE's second female Field Secretary, & the first sent to organize in the South. At first she organized in the mid-South, then became a South-wide trouble-shooter, often sent to heal relations which had soured between the organizers & the community. She organized in every state in the deep South, eventually concentrating on Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, in 1963. She became CORE's first female Southern Regional Director.

In 1964 she left to marry Walter Young, a dentist, (brother of Andrew Young) & returned to Denver, her home town. That marriage ended in divorce.

After the divorce, Mary moved to New York & became an organizer for 1199, the Drug & Hospital Workers, for which she had been a volunteer organizer whenever she was in New York. Later, she left to marry Harold Wesley. That marriage also ended in divorce. She taught English at Sleepy Hollow High School, in Westchester, for 19 years. She has one daughter, Holly Wesley, of Croton, NY.

Mary & I were roommates for three years, in both New York & Atlanta.

Sheila Michaels

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