Clarice Durham

1919 - 2018

Clarice Davis Durham was an early childhood educator, arts patron, political activist and world traveler who stood emphatically for human rights during her 98 years of life. Her work began as a teenager and young adult in Chicago when she stood up for justice for the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers who were accused and sentenced to death for a rape they did not commit. She continued to actively support the call for justice in many other cases during this time; passing out flyers, circulating petitions, knocking on doors and making telephone calls. 


Durham believed in progress through elections. She was first inspired to get involved in the campaign for Henry Wallace for President. Her support of him helped to form the Progressive Party, which called for an end to segregation, full voting rights for Blacks, and universal government health insurance. Years later she was active in the campaigns to elect Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and eventually President Barack Obama. 


While politics can create opportunities, the arts reflect who we are, to ourselves and to the world. Durham was a lifelong lover of and advocate for the arts. She was the chair of the Play-Reading Committee for eta Creative Arts Foundation Inc. Her husband, Richard Durham, had a prolific career in radio, and she was “Sounding Board in-Chief,” providing feedback on ideas and typing up scripts in time for deadlines. His show Destination Freedom in particular dispelled negative stereotypes about Black Americans by highlighting great figures in African-American history.


Durham was incredibly passionate about education justice, and over the years she threw herself into countless organizations. She was a member of the Education Committee of the South Side Branch of the NAACP, as well as a member of Teachers for Quality Education. She served as chairman of the Parents Association of the Student Woodlawn Area Project, and as a member of the Education Advisory Committee for the late Congressman, Charles A. Hayes. She served on the Board of Directors of the Mary Herrick Scholarship Fund. Finally, she was a volunteer tutor for Literacy Chicago.


As a teacher, she supported parents when they boycotted Chicago Public Schools and their use of “Willis Wagons,” cheap, mobile, classrooms that Black students were crammed into during de facto segregation. Among her marches and demonstrations, her participation with her son Mark in the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Justice” remains a highlight.


Her travels to Africa, Asia, Europe, Brasil and throughout the US gave her a world view of the demand for human rights. It inspired her to join the Chicago Branch of the National Anti-Imperialist Movement in Solidarity with African Liberation (NAIMSAL), where she served as treasurer. The organization presented speakers from South Africa and Zimbabwe in public meetings; raised money and held clothing drives in response to requests from African National Congress (ANC) members in exile, and campaigned for an end to apartheid in South Africa and the freedom of Nelson Mandela. 


Durham was engaged in many liberal institutions but she never lost sight of the ultimate goal: revolution. She co-founded the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) with Josephine Wyatt, working for police accountability, justice for victims of police torture and for a People’s Hearing on Police Crimes. 


“The system now seems like a system of punishment, rather than one of correction… it does nothing to teach people how to be better citizens, to give them the education and skills that they need when they come out of prison to be contributing members of the community.”

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