Memphis Moments
9:54 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis is a writer, scholar, and university professor. She has defined her life by her passion for learning and her commitment to equality.

 A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wellesley College, she has written or edited nine books, including Blacks in Hispanic Literature (1977) and Black Memphis Landmarks (2010).

She taught at LeMoyne-Owen College, Howard University, and Memphis State University. During her career, she chaired a department and directed a graduate program. She co-founded the Memphis Black Writers' Workshop, chaired the Tennessee Humanities Council, and organized the DuBois Honors Program. 

DeCosta-Willis was also a pioneer in the struggle for racial and gender equality. She organized a student protest in high school, took part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and marched in Washington, D.C. As a leader in the boycott of the Memphis Public Schools, she went to jail.

She was the first African-American admitted to Westover Preparatory School in Connecticut and was one of the first African-Americans to receive a doctorate of philosophy from Johns Hopkins University. She became the first African-American faculty member at Memphis State University, which had denied admission to her in 1957.

Miriam DeCosta-Willis features prominently in a new temporary exhibit at the Pink Palace called Women of Strength, Women of Color. The exhibit includes a number of artifacts that tell her story, as well as that of many other African-American women.

To learn more about all of our regions history, visit the Pink Palace Family of Museums, their Facebook page, or memphismuseums.org