Our country ought to give a moment of pause for a lesser-sung heroine of the civil rights movement who died earlier this month. Anne Braden, who died at age 81 in Louisville, Ky., was a white Southern woman who made it her lifelong project to show whites the error of their ways. Especially in the 1950s, they didn't want to hear it.
White Southern women were the crown jewel of white supremacy, its defenders argued, worth dying for and certainly worth lynching for, to preserve their sanctity against the supposed onslaught of black men.
In the mid-20th century, that ideology was still surprisingly widespread in the South, even as the Supreme Court dealt steady blows to legal segregation.
That was also the age of McCarthyism, when dissent often registered as disloyalty. Any white Southerner -- particularly a woman -- who condemned segregation and racism in such a climate could expect to be scorned and persecuted.
Braden was such a woman.
She plunged, with her husband Carl Braden, into national headlines in mid-1954, when they purchased a house in an all-white suburb of Louisville on behalf of an African-American family. This violation of the color line provoked an outcry that led to cross-burnings on the lawn and shots fired into the house. Six weeks later, the home was dynamited.
A subsequent grand jury investigation concentrated not on the neighborhood's ongoing harassment of the family, but on the Bradens' allegedly communistic intentions in backing the purchase, and they were indicted for sedition that fall.
Although the only conviction -- Carl's -- was later overturned, a highly sensationalized trial earned them the ire of segregationists across the South, which was reeling from the U.S. Supreme Court's condemnation of school segregation in its Brown v. Board ruling earlier that spring.
The sedition charges left the Bradens pariahs, branded as radicals and "reds" in the Cold War South. But it also stiffened Anne's resolve to raise her white Southern voice in support of the civil rights movement.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., meeting Braden in 1957 and reading her memoir, "The Wall Between," soon after, mentioned her in his 1963 "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" as one of only five Southern white allies willing to take risks for the movement.
And take risks she did. Traveling the region covering the movement through the '60s and '70s for her small civil rights group's newspaper, Southern Patriot, she and her husband were excoriated repeatedly by Southern politicians on the basis of their "subversive" reputations and their radical calls for reform.
They were threatened, picketed and sometimes prevented from speaking. Yet Anne Braden mentored generations of younger racial reformers, organized and participated in hundreds of marches and produced countless pamphlets, articles and calls to action for the civil rights movement.
After the movement's heyday and in spite of her husband's death in 1975, Braden continued her unyielding campaign for the white South and white America to make civil rights a reality, not just a law.
Through the decades, she evolved from pariah to heroine. But this didn't alter her feisty, single-minded dedication to racial justice.
Days before her death on March 6, Braden wrote these words for Reconciliation magazine: "Today there is an added challenge. Many white people have the illusion that race is not a problem anymore. Our job is to talk with them. And we must do it NOW."
During Women's History Month, it's worth remembering that alongside women like Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, there marched Anne Braden. Those three were proud to call one another friends, and they, along with many who marched and organized with them, set the nation to dismantling both white supremacy and ideals of womanhood. It remains to the rest of us to continue that work.
Catherine Fosl, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, is the author of "Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). She can be reached at email@example.com.