Hundreds, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, packed the South Side church the legendary Rev. Addie Wyatt founded Saturday afternoon to bid goodbye to the trailblazing labor leader and civil rights activist.
Wyatt, who died late last month at 88, was “virtuous, strong and loving,” family and friends said at a lively service that often drew laughter from the pews at the Vernon Park Church of God.
“Here was one of the most revered and respected individuals, no matter what discipline we talk about – civil rights, human rights or working rights,” said labor leader William “Bill” Lucy. “When the history of the civil rights movement is finally written, it will not be complete unless it reflects the contributions of Rev. Addie Wyatt.”
Raised in Bronzeville, Wyatt made waves as a union leader, helping redefine women’s roles in the labor movement. Her church work followed, and in the late 1950s, she joined the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in major civil rights marches.
King helped Wyatt get involved in Operation Breadbasket, which later became Operation PUSH, now the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
In 1961, Eleanor Roosevelt appointed Wyatt to serve on the Protective Labor Legislation Committee of President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Friends at Saturday’s service noted that decades later, Wyatt never let her deteriorating health hinder her efforts.
“She never stopped serving,” Rev. Jackson said. “She would walk and talk and inspire. . . . She was good at all things – life, labor, civil rights activism. And when she couldn’t walk, she rolled in a wheelchair and she never stopped going.”
In a letter from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Wyatt was called a “champion of equality and a fierce advocate for working Americans.”
Besides her activism and close ties to the church, Wyatt also was remembered for her loving but firm expectations for her kin: “I remember my cousin calling me to say Aunt Addie wants us over to dinner,” said Wyatt’s niece Bathsheba Draper. “And the proper response was, ‘When [what day] and what time?’ Aunt Addie always wanted us to be close.”