Meet Anna Hedgeman, First Black Female Member Of The New York Cabinet

History is littered with tales of those who had the talent but lacked the drive, the forbearance to push through to the finish line. Anna Hedgeman is not one of them. Hers is a story of triumph in the face of institutional opposition.

Born in 1899 to African-American parents, Hedgeman had always been the odd one outoby virtue of her skin colour. When she was young, her parents, William James Arnold II and Marie Ellen ArnoldA  moved from Marshaltown, Iowa (her birthplace) to a community in Anoka, Minnesota where they were the only black family. The decision was made to, among other things, ensure their daughter gets the best, including education.

She was enrolled into high school from which she graduated in 1918. Afterwards, Arnold accepted the admission offered by Hamline University, a Methodist college in St. Paul, Minnesota. She graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, the first African American to do so.

Anna and Mayor Wagner

This was to one among many firsts that this strong woman would have. With college done with, she took up a teaching job at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Two years into the job, she quit after seeing firsthand and experiencing the indignities suffered by blacks in segregated America.

Before going into her exploits from this point on, it is important to note that she did all these in the face of discrimination as a black and as a woman. She did all in an America that had zero tolerance and respect for people of colour.

After quitting her job, Hedgeman got fully involved in the civil rights movement. In 1924, she began a career with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). She went on to become the executive director of YWCA facilities in Springfield (Ohio), Jersey City (New Jersey), Harlem, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and Brooklyn.

In 1954, her work in the civil rights movement earned her a seat on the cabinet of New York Mayor Robert Wagner, the first African-American woman to serve in that capacity. This lasted till 1958.

In 1963, Hedgeman was the only female member of the organising committee that helped A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin plan the March on Washington. She not only organised it, she was there to lend her voice.

Six decades of speaking truth to power when silence would have been a safer option ended in 1990 when Hedgeman took her last breath.

Learn from her. Learn that the things or change you want would not be handed to you. You have to go for it. That business idea would not birth itself, the grade would not automatically show up. Put in the work even when giving up is the easier option.

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