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Coronavirus Victims: Sister Of The Civil Rights Movement Winifred Fredericks

WINIFRED FREDERICKS: Well, my name is Winifred Fredericks, also known as Sister Nandy. That's my name that I acquired during the civil rights struggle.


Winifred Fredericks was a daughter of New York City, a sister of the civil rights movement and a mother to the next generation of Black leaders. Fredericks died of COVID-19 in April, just 10 days before her 93rd birthday.


Mary Ellen Phifer met Fredericks in the '60s at a Congress Of Racial Equality meeting. They took part in Freedom Rides, sit-ins, protests, marching alongside the likes of Martin Luther King Jr.

MARY ELLEN PHIFER: Winnie (ph) was a very lovable, kind, dependable person. Whatever it was, you could count on her.

SHAPIRO: And for a time, many children counted on Fredericks for an education. Phifer remembers the two of them organizing and teaching at Freedom Schools in the '60s.

KELLY: These schools aimed to offer a better politically informed education to Black children than they might get at public schools, which were often segregated.

PHIFER: We didn't just have them sitting, laughing and talking, playing some kind of little games. It was supposed to be a meaningful, educational day.

SHAPIRO: In the '70s, Fredericks and her husband Maurice met a young Shagun Shabaka through a Black Power organization they were a part of.

SHAGUN SHABAKA: They were what I call a power couple. They had a rich, rich, consistent and long history of involvement in Black people's struggle.

KELLY: Dr. Shabaka says they lived their ideals. He remembers when fellow activists were jailed on what he calls trumped-up charges for murder.

SHAPIRO: The Fredericks and a few other families put their houses up as collateral for bail money. But when the activists were released, they fled the country, meaning the Fredericks were about to lose their home, until their community came together.

SHABAKA: Through all of that, anybody else might have been bitter, angry, turned away from the struggle. They became more involved in the struggle. And if you were to ever talk to her about it, she would light up and laugh about how people rallied around them, and they were able to keep their home.

KELLY: Now, at home to her three children, Fredericks was mom.

ADELE LEE: Mom and I were very close.

KELLY: That's Fredericks' oldest daughter Adele Lee.

LEE: She instilled a lot of values in me as a young girl and as a growing-up woman - things that made me value myself.

SHAPIRO: In Fredericks' final years, Lee and her mother would visit a local senior center, where Fredericks enjoyed telling jokes to the residents.

LEE: You know, I had to censor them a little bit because she liked to read spicy jokes sometimes.

KELLY: Lee remembers her mother's kind heart and playful nature. She says Fredericks had her convictions, too.

LEE: She was forceful in a quiet way, if you can understand what I mean. She never had any bad thing to say about anybody, but she had an opinion.

SHAPIRO: In an interview with students from Long Island University in 2013, Fredericks was asked what advice she had for young people.


FREDERICKS: To get involved in something - just get involved. I mean, don't just stand around. And once you start doing something, and you - sometimes, you can see improvement. And when you see improvement, you'll get more fired up, you know? There is a good feeling.

KELLY: Winifred Fredericks, Sister Nandy, civil rights pioneer and mother. She was 92 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF KEM SONG, "I CAN'T STOP LOVING YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.