African American Pro-Life Leaders Who Actively Challenged Racism in the 20th Century

Right now, black people across America are making rousing calls to demand respect due to them as human beings and to put an end to racism. To show solidarity with the African American community during this time, Illinois Right to Life would like to pay respect to the inspiring black pro-life leaders who have since passed away. We would like to honor and remember these admirable individuals who fought for human dignity from the moment life begins to the moment of natural death.

Here are 4 African Americans who fought for the right to life:


Dr. Dolores Grier 

Dr. Dolores Grier was born in Kingston, N.Y. in the year 1921. As a passionate pro-life leader, Dr. Grier became the founder of the Association of Black Catholics Against Abortion and also served as a board member of the African American Society Against Abortion. Dr. Grier was forthright in her advocacy for the right to life and worked to expose the racist discrepancies within the pro-abortion movement. Her statement during the 1990 hearing of the “Freedom of Choice Act” was notable as she challenged the act’s racist sentiment saying, “After many years of the civil rights struggle for equal opportunity in housing, education and employment, black women have only been granted the right to kill their children in the womb. Free health care only includes abortion… the White master is still telling black people what is best for us – death instead of life.” Dr. Dolores Grier passed away on February 22nd, 2018, but her legacy and work has surpassed her life and has been a source of inspiration for countless pro-lifers.


Dr. Mildred Jefferson 

Dr. Mildred Jefferson was born in 1926 and made her first claim to fame as the first black woman to graduate Harvard College as a medical student. As a pro-life physician, Dr. Jefferson became increasingly concerned with the right to life movement and spoke out against the practice of eugenics. This passion prompted her to co-found Massachusetts Citizens Concerned for Life and to act as a founding member and three-time president of the National Right to Life Committee. Dr. Jefferson sought to defend the sanctity of life with unity and in the 1977 National Right to Life Convention Journal, Dr. Jefferson wrote, “We come together from all parts of our land… We come rich and poor, proud and plain, religious and agnostic, politically committed and independent… The right-to-life cause is not the concern of only a special few but it should be the cause of all those who care about fairness and justice, love and compassion and liberty with law.”  This unifying message was a primary concern of Dr. Jefferson’s. Her admirable statement can inspire all people to put an end to actions that treat individuals with a lack of dignity. Dr. Mildred Jefferson died in 2010, but her mission continues on in the hearts of those she influenced. To learn more about her work to fight against racism and abortion, check out this video.


Angelina Weld Grimké

Angelina Weld Grimké was born in 1880 to a white woman and a biracial man. Grimké was a proficient artist as a playwright, poet, and writer, but she was also a prominent pro-life civil rights activist. Although she was a lesbian and never experienced biological motherhood, she helped raise family members and was a great advocate for mothers both biological and voluntary. She concerned herself greatly with black women and mothers, writing gruesome stories of abortions perpetrated during despicable lynchings and further, the effects of racism on expectant mothers. Through these stories, Grimké painted a picture of the pain caused by abortion and a lack of respect for black lives born and unborn. According to an article on Grimké’s life, published by Feminists for Life, Grimké reportedly said, “If anything can make all women sisters beneath their skin, it is motherhood. If, then the white women of this country could, see, feel, understand just what effect their prejudice and the prejudice of their father, brothers, husbands, sons were having on the souls of the colored mothers everywhere, and upon the mothers that are to be, a great power to affect public opinion would be set free and the battle would be half won.” This quote was reportedly aimed to “awaken the empathy of white women” and shows a call for unity in defending black mothers and their children.


Fannie Lou Hamer 

Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Montgomery County, Mississippi in the year 1917. Hamer’s passion for the right to life began after she was unknowingly sterilized by a white doctor whose aim was to reduce the black population in the United States. Unable to have her own biological children, Hamer and her husband adopted two daughters. The toils she underwent for being black impassioned her to become more involved in the civil rights movement and led her to become an advocate for the ability of black people to vote. She faced arrests and brutality from jail that rendered her with lifelong injuries. However, she did not suffer in vain. Her tragic stories and constant efforts to free black people from oppression allowed her to take an even greater stand. Hamer’s activism became famous within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party and Hamer relentlessly worked to advance maternal and child health. Within her work, Hamer held a steadfast pro-life position as she advocated for black single mothers and stated, “We still love these children. And after these babies are born we are not going to disband these children from our families… I think these children have a right to live. And I think that these mothers have a right to support them in a decent way… We are dealing with human beings.” Her love for all life was shown in her words and deeds in aiding in the prosperity of those less fortunate.


These four pro-life activists are admirable in their work to promote the sanctity of life, especially within a race facing great oppression. The pro-life movement – as it seeks to defend the sanctity of all lives with “fairness and justice, love and compassion and liberty with law” – is not only concerned with the lives of the unborn, but is concerned with all those who are oppressed and treated without human dignity. The pro-life movement honors the efforts of Dr. Dolores Grier, Dr. Mildred Jefferson, Angelina Weld Grimké, and Fannie Lou Hamer and continually looks to them as witnesses of truth and perseverance in the fight for the right to life.