Miriam DeCosta-Willis

Miriam DeCosta Willis smiling at the camera
Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis was born in Florence, Alabama to a family of educators. She grew up in Charleston, SC where her passion for civil rights activism was sparked.
Dr. DeCosta-Willis was a beloved Memphis civil rights activist and writer who valued education, hard work, and giving back to the community. She received her degrees from Wellesley College and from Johns Hopkins University, becoming one of the first Black students to earn her Ph.D. there. She was also the first Black faculty member at The University of Memphis. Dr. DeCosta-Willis also taught at Lemoyne-Owen College, Howard University, George Mason University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She wrote fifteen books over the course of her career. As part of her activist career, she participated in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and helped lead a boycott of Memphis public schools. She also donated a collection of her family’s history to Memphis Public Library and Information Center. 
In addition to her expansive career and prolific publishing, Dr. DeCosta-Willis enjoyed traveling and loved people. She passed away on January 7, 2021, at age 86, surrounded by her loved ones. She was preceded in death by her first husband, Russell B. Sugarmon, and second husband A.W. Willis. She leaves behind her children Erika Sugarmon, Judge Tarik Sugarmon, Elena DeCosta-Williams and Monique Sugarmon, as well as eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.