Remembering Civil Rights Icon Edith Mae Savage-Jennings

During Black History Month, we reflect on extraordinary African-American leaders like Edith Mae Savage-Jennings whose significant contributions and achievements from the past continue to inspire future generations to come.

Civil rights “champion” Edith Mae Savage-Jennings was a prominent force in New Jersey’s equal rights movement during the 1960’s. She proved that perseverance and determination can be a powerful force for change.

Involved in numerous organizations, including The NAACP, National Urban League, Urban League Guild of Metropolitan Trenton and Young People for Progress, Savage-Jennings was a true pioneer for civil rights, equality and freedom for all people regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity or religion.

Over the course of her life, Savage-Jennings earned over 100 awards for her important work fighting for civil rights and was inducted into the New Jersey Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida on March 17th, 1924, Savage-Jennings was one of six children. After losing her parents at the young age of two, Savage-Jennings and her siblings were sent to live with their aunt and, shortly after that, the family moved to New Jersey.

With a burning passion for activism even at the age of 11,  Savage-Jennings had the opportunity to meet the First Lady (who at the time was Eleanor Roosevelt) thanks to the New Jersey State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. As a passionate advocate for the rights of African Americans, Asians, and women, Eleanor Roosevelt had a deep impact on Savage-Jennings’ civil rights journey. After the young Savage-Jennings personally thanked the First Lady for being an ally of the civil rights movement, both women remained extremely close friends until Roosevelt passed away in 1962.

By the age of 13 Savage-Jennings was already a major force in the fight to integrate the Capital Theater in Trenton. Throughout her life she had always been afraid of heights and, because of this, she would not sit on the balcony of the segregated theater. Rather, she insisted on sitting in the second row and refused to move throughout the duration of the show despite numerous requests from theater staff.

In 1957 Savage-Jennings has the opportunity to meet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who for the next 11 years, would remain an extremely close friend of hers. Dr. King usually called on Savage-Jennings to elicit her opinion on various topics and subjects he was dealing with at the time. According to “On the morning of the day he was assassinated, King asked Savage-Jennings to remain close with his wife in case anything ever happened to him.”

Savage passed away on November 12, 2017 at her home in Trenton, New Jersey at the age of 93, but her legacy lives on. The City of Trenton proclaimed February 19, 2016 as Edith Savage-Jennings Day, permanently cementing her life’s work in the city that she fought in.

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