Harriet Tanzman

In Memoriam SNCC Legacy Project (SLP)


As remembered by the Tanzman Family
May 8, 2020

Harriet Sheila Tanzman was born in Brooklyn, NY, October 12, 1940 to Abraham and Miriam Tanzman and died May 5, 2020 at Manhattan Nursing Home in Jackson, MS following a stroke and a fall.

While a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Harriet began her lifelong activism for civil rights and peace with the W.E.B. DuBois Club and the Congress of Racial Equality, then with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Gadsden and Selma, AL. During Freedom Summer 1964, she worked in Holly Springs, MS, then in Holmes County with MS Freedom Democratic Party elections, and against the Vietnam War in 1966.

In 1968, Harriet set up the audio tape archive at Highlander Center in Tennessee, then worked in progressive, alternative media for many years in San Francisco and New York. She conducted dozens of interviews with Holmes County activists and others that are in the McCain Library at the University of Southern MS, the Tamiment Library, and the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive.

Since returning to live in MS in April 2004, Harriet participated in many organizations and served on the Board of Directors of Veterans of the MS Civil Rights Movement.

Harriet Tanzman is quoted extensively in Debra L. Schultz, Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement, Pamela S. Nadell, ed., American Jewish Women's History: A Reader, and interviews with the League of Women Voters of Mississippi and the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement.

She is survived by her nephews, David Tanzman and John Tanzman (Bridget), her nieces Robyn Ochs (Peg Preble) and Jill Steinberg (Scott), her sister-in-law Rozzy Tanzman, grand nieces and nephews, many cousins and dear friends. She was predeceased in 2018 by her brother, Daniel Tanzman. The family would like to thank friends Sally Fran Ross, Sheila O'Flaherty, and Jan Hillegas for their extraordinary support and thoughtful care during Harriet's recent years.

"Don`t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don`t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend," Albert Camus

Memorials can be made to Conversations MS, PO Box 1041, Jackson, MS 39215.


As remembered by Ira Grupper
May 8, 2020

I remember Harriet visiting me when I worked with COFO/MFDP in Marion County (Columbia), MS. She had known Curtis Styles, who had directed the MFDP project. Harriet and I became good friends.

And when my (then) wife and I drove from NYC to Louisville KY, to join the SCEF staff, in 1969, Harriet accompanied us and she spent a few days in Louisville.

She was a righteous person. We all have our ghosts and goblins (I certainly do), and Harriet had many to deal with over many years. Her tenacity, her dedication to building a better world, and her humanityare what I will always remember.


As remembered by Dr. Robert Smith
May 8, 2020

To All: This country should be grateful that there are great Americans like the late Harriet Tanzman. We must be thankful to her family and her early childhood experiences that led to her becoming a great American.

I was fortunate to meet Harriet in '64 when she came to Mississippi in the heat of the summer in "the belly of the beast," "ground zero" as it was called, to put her life on the line for the rights of all Americans. It was too hot for some. Some stayed for a week, some for the summer and a few like Harriet spent a lifetime working tirelessly for the rights of all Americans, especially "the least of these." Remembering her from my point of view would be long for through the years we would always have an opportunity to interact. She was an oral historian who captured my oral history. We were fortunate to work together on the board for the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer.

I served as her family physician from the beginning and we developed a relationship that led her to support our work as a principal founder of community health centers, now FQHCs, serving over 30 million Americans, about one million in Mississippi.

Finally, on a personal note, I'm very proud that she selected me as her physician for she was proud of me and appreciated the struggle of minority physicians. There would be occasions to refer her out to other specialists and Harriet would always find her way back to her medical home, Central Mississippi Health Services, Inc.

My sincere condolences to her family, to SNCC, and all the people to whom she gave a lifetime of service.

Rest in Peace, Harriet

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