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A Life in Pursuit of Justice

A Life in Pursuit of JusticeATufts graduate and prominent Kentucky social activist is continuingher efforts to fight against social injustice both at home andabroad.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.23.05] Carla Wallace (J’75) has dedicated her life topromoting social justice. Though she has spearheaded a campaignfor the legal protection of the gay community in Louisville, Kentucky,and funded education efforts through her philanthropy, Wallacebelieves there is still much to be done.

“Inthe years that I’ve done this work, I feel like one of ourchallenges is that we’re divided by the issues that confrontus. We’ll talk about racism but not economic justice. We’lltalk about women’s issues but not about homophobia. AndI do not see how we can possibly build a movement that is strongenough to make the changes we need in this country if we don’twork across our lines of difference,” Wallace told the Courier-Journalof Louisville, Ky.

From earlyon, Wallace has had an eye for social justice. In elementary schoolshe became particularly aware of those who were less fortunate.

“Itjust seemed totally unfair and wrong that some people, includingmy family, had so much, and others had so little, that peoplewere looked down on because of the color of their skin or whatcountry they were from," she told the Courier-Journal."And I remember thinking, when I was very young, that maybeI could do something with my time and resources to try and changethat. And I became very fervent about it.”.

Wallace –a political science major at Tufts – became something quiteunique – a white Southern woman taking the lead on civilrights. When a gay-rights law came under debate in Louisvillein the 1990s, Wallace drove toward final passage of the measurein 1999 as part of the Fairness Campaign. Former Louisville AldermanSteve Magre finally cast the deciding vote that allowed for thepassage of the law.

“Asthis played out over the course of about five or six years, interms of various votes, I always had high regard for Carla –very consistent, very persistent,” Magre told the Courier-Journal.“Just watching it develop, in terms of what the intentionof the law would be, at first there was a lot more aggressionin the symbolism of it. And one of the things that really swayedme in 1999 was that the Fairness Campaign became much more focused,much more direct in terms of demonstrating examples of prejudicialtreatment. I got to hear stories of people who lost their jobs,a couple of them people I’d know to be competent professionals.And Carla’s honesty was without question to me. That wasvery influential, even when I didn’t support her.”

Observerscredit the passage of the law to Carla's persistence in propellingthe Fairness Campaign – a quality she applies to mattersof social justice across the state.

“I’venever been out on any kind of demonstration that Carla wasn’tthere,” Bob Cunningham, longtime activist with the KentuckyAlliance against Racist and Political Repression told the Courier-Journal.“She doesn’t like the limelight, and in fact kindof shuns it. But she has a clear analysis of the social justicemovement that’s able to connect various issues. She’salways there, been on every front.”

Wallace'sfocuses have been civil rights – including gay rights andthe antiwar movement. She traveled to Nicaragua during that country's1984 civil war and Colombia in 2001, where she observed the plightof peasant farmers. She also visited Israel during the peak ofthe Palestinian uprising in 2002.

Wallace complementedher actions with funds by endowing the Audre Lorde chair in Race,Class, Gender and Sexuality at the University of Louisville.

Wallace's$1 million gift will endow a chair based in both the University'span-African studies department and women's and gender studiesdepartment. It is named for the African-American poet laureatewho dies in 1992.

The donationwill be complemented by a $1 million matching grant from the state,which will be used to support visiting scholars in African studies.

While Wallacewishes that change took place more quickly, she feels she hasfound a true vocation in the pursuit of social justice.

“Thiswork has become the love of my life in a way, with all the challengesand heartbreak that go with love,” Wallace told the CourierJournal. “But I would not trade it, even when it getsreally hard, for anything. It’s created for me a familybeyond the wonderful family I already have.”









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