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Miriam DeCosta-Willis

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Information about Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Profile image of Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
EducationMakers
Occupation(s):
Civil Rights Activist
Foreign Languages Professor

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Paella
Favorite Time of Year:
Winter
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Mayan Riviera, Mexico
Favorite Quote:
What Goes Around, Comes Around.

Birthplace

Born:
11/1/1934
Birth Location:
Florence, Alabama

Profession

Category:
CivicMakers
EducationMakers
Occupation(s):
Civil Rights Activist
Foreign Languages Professor

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Red
Favorite Food:
Paella
Favorite Time of Year:
Winter
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Mayan Riviera, Mexico
Favorite Quote:
What Goes Around, Comes Around.

Birthplace

Born:
11/1/1934
Birth Location:
Florence
See how Miriam DeCosta-Willis is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

University professor and author Laurie DeCosta-Willis was born November 1, 1934 in Florence, Alabama to educators Beautine and Frank DeCosta. She grew up in the South but graduated from Westover School in Connecticut and received a B.A. degree, Phi Beta Kappa, from Wellesley College, as well as M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the Johns Hopkins University.

In her forty-year career in education, she has taught at LeMoyne and Owen Colleges (later, at the merged institution for a decade), became the first Black faculty member at Memphis State University in 1966, chaired the Department of Romance Languages at Howard University, was named Commonwealth Professor of Spanish at George Mason University in 1989, and was Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, from which she retired in 1999.

An activist throughout her life, she organized a student protest at Wilkinson High School, joined her mother in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was jailed in Memphis for participating in civil rights demonstrations, campaigned for Black political candidates, led a boycott of Memphis public schools, and joined protest marches in Washington when she lived there in the 1990s.

Co-founder of the Memphis Black Writers' Workshop, DeCosta-Willis has published eight books, including Blacks in Hispanic Literature, Erotique Noire, The Memphis Diary of Ida B. Wells, Daughters of the Diaspora and, recently, Notable Black Memphians. A columnist, lecturer, consultant, and visiting scholar, she was chair of the Tennessee Humanities Council, associate editor of Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women, and editorial board member of the Afro-Hispanic Review.

In 1955, she married Russell Sugarmon, Jr., a civil rights attorney, and they had four children. Later, she married A. W. Willis, Jr., an attorney, businessman, and first Black elected to the Tennessee Legislature since Reconstruction.

Miriam DeCosta-Willis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 31, 2003.

See how Miriam DeCosta-Willis is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Miriam DeCosta-Willis' interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes her mother's personality and recalls a story from her mother's childhood in Hancock County, Georgia
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes how her maternal great-grandfather acquired land in Hancock County, Georgia
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about her paternal family history
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about moving around frequently during her childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes her curiosity about sexuality and religion as a child
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about attending the Thaddeus Stevens Observatory School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about attending laboratory schools affiliated with Alabama State College and South Carolina State University
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about her experience at Wilkinson High School in Orangeburg, South Carolina and the beginning of her language study
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis lists the schools she attended
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis explains how she was able to attend The Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about her experience at the Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes the sight, sounds, and smells of her formative years in Orangeburg, South Carolina
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes her experience at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts from 1952 to 1956
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis recalls her mother's courage after the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s house was bombed in Montgomery, Alabama in 1956
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis gives an example of how race was addressed in her classes at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes her experience studying Spanish at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and recalls influential teachers there
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes her struggle to find a teaching job in Memphis, Tennessee with only a bachelor's degree
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes civil rights activists in Memphis, Tennessee from 1956 to 1959
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis explains the reason she earned her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes her experience completing her M.A. degree at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about completing her Ph.D. degree at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about integrating the faculty of the University of Memphis in 1966 and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about her campus activism while a professor at the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee from 1966 to 1970, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about her campus activism while a professor at the University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee from 1966 to 1970, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about Memphis, Tennessee's black power group, the Invaders
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes joining the faculty at Howard University and discovering Afro-Hispanic literature
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about the development of the study of Afro-Hispanic literature since the 1970s
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes her tenure as director of the graduate program in Afro-American studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes her return to Memphis, Tennessee in 1976 and her tenure at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis from 1979 to 1989
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis explains how she came up with the idea to edit 'Erotique Noire/Black Erotica'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about the process of publishing 'Erotique Noire/Black Erotica'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about her published works
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis talks about the books she plans to write
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis describes how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis reflects upon the current state of the African American community
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis reflects upon her life
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis narrates her photographs, pt. 1
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Miriam DeCosta-Willis narrates her photographs, pt.2