Biographical / Historical
Anne McCarty was born on July 28, 1924, in Louisville, Kentucky, but spent most of her childhood in rigidly-segregated Anniston, Alabama, raised by middle-class parents who were firm believers in racial hierarchy. A devout Episcopalian, she studied literature and journalism at a Virginia women's college, then worked as a newspaper reporter in postwar Alabama, where she was repelled by its blatantly discriminatory justice system. Returning to the border city of her birth, she joined the staff of the Louisville Times in 1947. Covering civil rights causes and meeting radical reformers for the first time, she experienced a dramatic political transformation. She met and in 1948 married fellow newspaperman and labor editor Carl Braden, a leftist trade unionist. Becoming an activist team, the Bradens left mainstream journalism to apply their writing talents to the interracial left wing of Louisville's labor movement.
The Bradens may have remained local activists had it not been for their agreeing in 1954 to the request of an African American friend, Andrew Wade, that they act as "fronts" for his family to purchase a home in Louisville's segregated suburbs. When the Wades moved in, white neighbors burned a cross in front of the new house, shot out windows, and condemned the Bradens for buying it. Six weeks later, the Wades' new home was dynamited. This act of housing desegregation turned into a local variation of the anticommunist hysteria known nationally as "McCarthyism." The investigation shifted from segregationist violence to the alleged Communist Party affiliations of those who had supported the Wades. In October 1954 Anne and Carl Braden and five other whites were charged with sedition, and Carl Braden, as the perceived ringleader, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Anne was never tried and the conviction was later overturned, but the Wades lost their home and never saw its bombers prosecuted. The Bradens were left penniless and reviled regionally as "reds."
Blacklisted locally, they took jobs in 1957 as field organizers for the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), a New Orleans-based civil rights organization whose mission was to solicit white southern support for the African American freedom movement. For 16 years, Anne Braden edited SCEF's monthly newspaper, The Southern Patriot, also publicizing civil rights campaigns through press releases and articles for other small journals. Although their radical politics marginalized them among many of their own generation, the Bradens were reclaimed by younger activists of the 1960s as civil libertarians who connected racism to war and poverty. After her husband's death in 1975, Anne Braden remained until her own death on March 6, 2006, among the U.S.'s most outspoken white anti-racist activists and writers.
Her 1958 memoir of her sedition case, The Wall Between, was one of the few books of its time to unpack the psychology of white southern racism from within. A runner-up for the National Book Award soon after its release, it resulted in her becoming one of only six white writers commended by Rev. Martin Luther King Junior in his 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail" as anti-segregationists. Persisting in spite of her radical reputation, Braden was later instrumental in organizing across racial divides in the new environmental and anti-nuclear movements that sprang up in the 1970s-80s. Her widely-reproduced "Letter to White Southern Women" cautioned the women's liberation movement to act against racism. In 1990--no longer a pariah-- she received the first-ever Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union.
In the final decade of her life, her activism centered more on Louisville, mainly through the Kentucky Alliance against Racism and Political Repression. After 1996 she also taught social justice history classes at Northern Kentucky University and, in the final three years of her life, at the University of Louisville. Anne Braden died on March 6, 2006.
-- Catherine Fosl - Director, Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research