Dorothy Burnham • 2022 Honoree
Human rights activist, educator, and activist, Dorothy Burnham celebrated her 107th(!) birthday on March 22, 2022. Born in Brooklyn, she graduated from Brooklyn College with a biology degree. With no jobs available in the Depression she and her future husband Louis Burnham moved to Birmingham to work on civil rights with Paul Robeson in 1941. Back in Brooklyn in the 1950s she worked as a lab tech, got a degree in microbiology and joined the faculty at Hostos Community College. Widowed suddenly in 1960, she cared for their four children, worked to support the family, and continued to fight for equal rights for many decades.
BY Rosslyn Wuchinich, president of Philadelphia’s largest UNITE HERE local, representing food service workers
Dorothy Burnham has lived her life fighting racism, poverty, and their root causes. Having watched her parents denied work in their skilled professions simply because they were Black, she joined progressive socialist and communist organizing that was demanding an end to segregation and jobs for everyone while a student at Brooklyn College. After graduating, she and her husband Louis moved to Birmingham to join the Southern Negro Youth Congress where she served as Education Director. There they withstood threats and arrests while fighting Southern segregation in the 1940s. In future decades she was active with Sisters Against South African Apartheid, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Women for Economic and Racial Equality, and many other organizations.
With degrees in biology and microbiology, Professor Burnham taught at Hostos Community and Empire State Colleges at a time when very few women or African Americans were doing so. She has also raised four children who are today educators, historians, lawyers, musicians, and worker organizers.
Today at 107 years old she remains in the freedom struggle.
I am deeply humbled and honored to introduce the 2022 Clara Lemlich honoree Dorothy Dowridge Challenor Burnham.