Norma Abdulah, 1921–2015

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A passionate fighter for race, gender and economic equality, Norma Abdulah was born in Harlem to a Trinidadian family. Her education about racism in the U.S. started early when her father, a professional in his homeland, was told not to apply for “white men’s jobs.”

But no matter how tight the budget, Norma was always encouraged to learn. And her father inaugurated Norma into a lifelong love of art and culture with family trips to the opera.

Her accomplishments were remarkable. After attending Hunter College, Norma became the first Black woman at the Columbia University School of Philosophy and Science. As a public school teacher, she helped found the United Federation of Teachers. Her name is inscribed at the Southern Poverty Law Center to honor her contributions to the civil rights movement.

For decades, Norma was a fixture in NYC Left political life. In the mid-1990s, she joined the effort to build a U.S. Labor Party. She was unfailingly friendly and open to working respectfully with people of all radical perspectives.

As a member of Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, Norma radiated joy and optimism at Harlem-based Freedom Hall; she was proud of her “beautiful groups.”

Norma was drawn to young people and enjoyed sharing her stories: she interpreted for Malcolm X when he met with a French dignitary; defended Marxism to Columbia University dons; and refused as a young communist to confine herself to the “Negro” question. She encouraged younger comrades to challenge themselves — as well as inviting them to the Alvin Ailey dance performances she cherished.

The inspiration of the revolutionary work Norma loved and lived continues.

Read more about her life in her own words in this interview from a past issue of the FS.

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.

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