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Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Roberta Galler

Roberta Galler
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Roberta Galler and Ralph Nichols at the office of New University Thought, 1962. Courtesy of Roberta Galler.


Roberta Galler was born in Chicago in 1936. After contracting polio in 1946, she spent long periods of time in hospitals for surgery, as well as at Warm Springs, Georgia, a healing center founded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1920's, where she first encountered racism, because "there were no black children there." Determined to overcome the limits of her disability, she became a star student and activist in high school. On leave from the University of Chicago in 1961, she managed the northern student movement journal, New University Thought, which chronicled events in the southern civil rights movement. Meeting Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) people through the journal inspired her to help form Chicago Friends of SNCC, becoming its first executive secretary.

Impressed with her fundraising, organizing, and press outreach work, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party chairman Lawrence Guyot invited her to Mississippi in the fall of 1964 to open the first statewide MFDP office there. Trying to set up the Congressional Challenge, Galler worked around the clock, joking that she went to jail in Jackson in 1965 to rest. Later she traveled around the state doing political education workshops, came North to do fundraising, worked with Curtis Hayes on the Freedom Information Service, and returned to Chicago at the time of the 1968 Democratic convention. In the early 1970s, she helped set up the Center for Constitutional Rights and worked with the anti-war movement. She later returned to school and became a psychoanalyst. She lived in Manhattan, where she maintained a private practice and was active with the Center for Independence of the Disabled. Ms. Galler passed away on February 12, 2014 in New York City.


During February and March 1965, the lawyers and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) staff traveled the state, taking depositions from Blacks who had been threatened economically and physically, and blocked from attempting to vote. Attorneys compiled six hundred depositions-three thousand single-spaced pages -which they submitted to the House of Representatives as evidence that the 1964 congressional elections were unconstitutional. Despite this major achievement, the goals of Roberta Galler and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) staff centered much more on engaging Black participation in democratic experiment. Galler reminisces:

This was quite an extraordinary process. What we were doing was that the people themselves from around the state who had been subject to the most gross beatings and injustices were giving depositions and were taking form the various officials who had beaten them.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Jewish Women in Civil Rights - Roberta Galler." (Viewed on April 17, 2014) <>.