Legendary labor activist and feminist, Mildred “Millie” Jeffrey, died March 24 in Detroit, Michigan. Jeffrey was the first woman to head a United Auto Workers Union department when she took charge of the UAW’s newly formed Women’s Bureau in 1944.

Back when unions understood the need for mass media, Jeffrey managed the UAW’s radio station between 1949-54. She also directed the UAW’s Community Relations Department and later headed Consumer Affairs until her retirement from the UAW in 1976.

In addition her well-documented union activities, Millie managed Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 Presidential campaign in Michigan; co-founded both the Democratic Socialists Organizing Committee (DSOC) in the 1970s and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in 1982; secured the UAW’s Port Huron Camp for the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) which led to the creation of the most famous statement of the New Left, the Port Huron Statement; and was instrumental in Geraldine Ferraro winning the Vice Presidential nomination on the 1984 Democratic ticket. In August 2000, Jeffrey received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton.

In 1974, Jeffrey was elected to the Wayne State University Board of Governors, where she served until 1990. As the DSOC and later DSA organizer at Wayne State, I worked very closely with Millie during the 1980s. As we struggled against the devastating impact of “Reaganomics” in Detroit and fought President Ronnie’s foreign policy in Central America, it was always reassuring at national conferences held at Wayne State to have the Chair of the University’s Board of Governors greet virtually every progressive convention on the campus.

In 1990, when I received my Ph.D from Wayne State, the only thing I remember from the ceremony is that Millie Jeffrey came forward from her seat and hugged me. Two years later, I got a call and marching orders from Millie, “Bob, get up to Detroit, I’m going to introduce you to Senator Tom Harkin. That’s who we’re supporting.” She also advised me “to slip him a memo” on how he could win Ohio.

Millie, we will miss you. Solidarity forever!

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