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Pioneering Black feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes dies at 84

New York: Dorothy Pitman Hughes, a pioneering Black feminist, child welfare advocate and community activist who co-founded Ms Magazine with Gloria Steinem and appeared with her in one of the most iconic photos of the second-wave feminist movement, has died. She was 84.

Hughes died on Dec. 1 in Tampa, Florida, at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, said Maurice Sconiers of the Sconiers Funeral Home in Columbus, Georgia. Her daughter, Delethia Ridley Malmsten, said the cause was old age.

Hughes and Steinem forged a powerful speaking partnership in the early 1970s, touring the country at a time when feminism was seen as predominantly white and middle class, a divide dating back to the origins of the American women’s movement. Steinem credited Hughes with helping her become comfortable speaking in public.

In one of the most famous images of the era, taken in October 1971, the two raised their right arms in the Black Power salute. The photo is now in the National Portrait Gallery.

Hughes, her work always rooted in community activism, organized the first shelter for battered women in New York City and co-founded the New York City Agency for Child Development to broaden childcare services in the city.

Malmsten told The Associated Press that her mother’s biggest contribution was helping entire families through the community center she established on Manhattan’s West Side, offering day care, job training and more: She took families off the street and gave them jobs.

Laura L. Lovett, whose biography of Hughes, With Her Fist Raised, that came out last year, said in Ms. Magazine that Hughes “defined herself as a feminist, but rooted her feminism in her experience and in more fundamental needs for safety, food, shelter and child care. “

Born Dorothy Jean Ridley on Oct. 2, 1938, in Lumpkin, Georgia, Hughes committed herself to activism at an early age, according to an obituary written by her family.

When she was 10, it said, her father was nearly beaten to death and left on the family’s doorstep. The family believed he was attacked by the Ku Klux Klan, and Hughes decided to dedicate herself to helping others.

She moved to New York City in the late 1950s when she was nearly 20 and worked as a salesperson, nightclub singer and house cleaner. By the 1960s she had become involved in the civil rights movement and other causes, working with Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and others.

In the late 1960s, she set up the West 80th St. Community Childcare Center, where in 1968 she met Steinem, who was then a journalist writing a story for New York Magazine. They became friends, and, from 1969 to 1973, they spoke across the country at college campuses, community centers and other venues on gender and race issues. They co-founded Ms. in 1972, with the first issue featuring Wonder Woman on its cover.