Dorthy Cotton, a civil rights pioneer who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr has died at the age of 88. Cotton led education efforts for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the civil rights era, and she led the Atlanta-based civil rights group’s Citizenship Education Program.
“She had a beautiful voice, and when things got tense, Dorothy was the one who would start up a song to relieve the tension,” Xernona Clayton, who was King’s office manager in Atlanta and organized protest marches and fundraisers, told the Associated Press.
“She had such a calming influence in her personality,” Clayton added. “She had a personality that would lend itself to people listening to her.”
Cotton was born in Goldsboro, North Carolina. She and her three sisters were raised by her father after her mother died when she was very young, according to Cotton’s online biography at the Dorothy Cotton Institute.
She attended Shaw University in Raleigh before earning a bachelor’s degree in English and library science at Virginia State College in 1955. She earned a master’s degree in speech therapy from Boston University in 1960.
She met King when he preached at the church she attended in Petersburg, Virginia, and was invited shortly thereafter to join the staff at the SCLC.
Jared Harrsion, a close friend who was at her bedside, said a small private burial and larger public memorial were being planned in Ithaca, but details hadn't been finalized.