Mimi Shaw Hayes
(1941 — 2011)

November, 2011

Mildred (Mimi) Shaw Hayes was a veteran of the civil rights movement both North and South who carried on the struggle through a long career of activism in politics and the arts. She died November 20 in Chicago, two months after her 70th birthday, of complications from a severe stroke.

Ms. Hayes, who attended the University of Chicago from kindergarten in the Lab School through college graduation in 1962, was "a striking presence" on a campus that had very few African-American students in those days, said her classmate Ron Dorfman, with whom she partnered in a 1961 test of the university's segregated residential real estate in Hyde Park. Confronted with the documentation they and others had gathered, Dorfman recalled, university officials said that keeping buildings segregated was how they maintained "a stable interracial community." That admission led to a student takeover of the university's administration building in the winter of 1961-62.

She and her mother, the late Mildred Hensen Shaw, were avid organizers and fundraisers for Chicago Area Friends of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which supported the Movement in the South and frequently hosted SNCC field workers on speaking tours or brief respites from the danger and violence. Fannie Rushing, professor of history at Benedictine University in Lisle, said that experience proved instrumental decades later, in 2005, when they were organizing a project to preserve and document the Chicago group's history, with a kickoff meeting planned at Roosevelt University. "We were trying to figure out what to call it," Dr. Rushing said, "and Mimi remembered that when SNCC workers from the South asked how they should speak to urban audiences, they were told: 'Just tell the story.' So that was the title we went with, 'Tell the Story,' and it was a great success."

For the "Freedom Summer" of 1964, Ms. Hayes traveled to McComb, Mississippi, where the Ku Klux Klan was especially active. There she worked on voter registration campaigns even after the Freedom House, where Movement people lived and worked, as well as numerous black community homes and churches, had been bombed, said Curtis Hayes Muhammad, her ex-husband. She also taught guitar and folk singing in the freedom school organized by SNCC.

After McComb, Ms. Hayes did a master's degree in communications at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School, then returned to Mississippi in 1965 to work with the Delta Ministry, a program of the National Council of Churches. Muhammad, who was then a SNCC field secretary, had been recruited by the Delta Ministry to create Freedom Corps, a group of young native Mississippi organizers. Freedom Corps organized and worked with farm laborers on plantations in several Delta counties, including Bolivar, Sunflower, and Washington. Ms. Hayes helped organize the Freedom Information Service to develop information and statistics on local residents and civil rights movement activities.

Back in Chicago, she became one of the first African American television producers, creating programming for the Church Federation of Greater Chicago that aired on the local NBC affiliate. But she soon relocated to Washington, DC to join other former SNCC workers in Afro-American Resources, founders of the Drum and Spear Bookstore and the Drum and Spear Press. The Press, where Ms. Hayes worked as an editor, published children's literature, poetry, and history. The Drum and Spear Bookstore had one of the largest collections of books by and about black people in the country and hosted authors such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Lerone Bennett, and Shirley Graham Du Bois. Ms. Hayes also produced a local radio program with authors being interviewed by Afro-American Resources staff.

The success of the authors program led Dewey Hughes, then the program director of WOL radio, to invite Drum and Spear to develop and produce a program for children. Ms. Hayes wrote and produced the show, "Sa Yaa Watoto" (The Children's Hour), for WOL-AM, incorporating African and Afro-American folktales, and used the show to teach script writing and radio production to students at the local Center for Black Education and The New Thing Art & Architecture Center.

In the early 1970s, she helped WNVT (Northern Virginia Community College's television station) win a grant from the U.S. Office of Education to produce 52 half-hour programs for minority teenagers. She later became co-producer with Arthur Cromwell of the show, called Gettin' Over, which was broadcast nationwide on PBS from 1975-78. She worked again with Cromwell in the 1980s as the writer of Watch Me Move, a history of African American dance produced for KCET-TV in Los Angeles. In the late 1980s she assisted Judy Richardson and other producers of the monumental television history of the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize, and was given "special thanks" in the program credits.

During her years with Drum and Spear, Ms. Hayes acquired an extensive collection of African art and rare, first- and second-edition books by African and African American writers. It was a passion she continued to indulge on her return to Chicago in the early 1980s, and subsequently as she became involved in promoting trade with African countries. With author Ron Watkins, she edited the guidebook Doing Business in Africa: Myths & Realities (Heritage Productions, 1994).

When Ms. Hayes left Washington to return to Chicago, her home in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood was conveniently available for a new arrival in the capital: the political editor and Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, Basil Talbott, who had been a fellow student at the University of Chicago and recalled driving her down Lake Shore Drive on his English motorcycle. "She was a very lively, kind, and warm person," Talbott said, "always upbeat, even when her mother took ill."

Harold Washington's campaigns for mayor of Chicago consumed her volunteer time and energy for years, as did other political projects including Barack Obama's campaigns for the Senate and the White House. She was, off and on, an associate at The Publicity Works, a public relations firm with many political clients and offices near her home in Bronzeville.

Until she suffered a stroke in 2009, Ms. Hayes served on the organizing committee of the Chicago SNCC History Project, which has established an extensive archive of documents, memorabilia, and oral-history interviews as part of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature at the Woodson Regional Library.

Ms. Hayes is survived by her cousins Dr. Marianne Maynard, Julia Poindexter, Yvonne Walden and Maya Walden, and the Howard Hogan family and many friends. Her ashes will be interred at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago alongside those of her mother and her father, Howard Dobson Shaw.

A memorial service is being planned for the spring.

Ron Dorfman
Juadine Henderson
Marianne Maynard

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