Ithaca Community Honors Dorothy Cotton

By Dan Verderosa, August 14, 2018
Ithaca College’s president was among those celebrating the life and legacy of the civil rights pioneer.

Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado joined speakers from across the community and around the country to celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights icon Dorothy Cotton at Cornell University on Saturday, August 11.

“Dorothy challenged us to embrace our calling as contributing citizens of the world, to be open to discovering our own tremendous power,” Collado said in remarks delivered at the event. “She acknowledged the difficulty embedded within this task, particularly for people from communities that have been disenfranchised and pushed down.”

Cotton worked alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement as the educational director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She led the Citizenship Education Program, which helped instruct the disenfranchised on the importance of political participation, voter registration and nonviolent protest. From 1982 to 1991, Cotton served as director of student activities at Cornell University, and in 2010 the Center for Transformative Action, a Cornell affiliate, established the Dorothy Cotton Institute to promote a global community for civil and human rights leadership.

Other speakers included the Rev. William Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign; Clayborne Carson, director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute; Cornell University President Martha Pollack; and Tompkins Cortland Community College President Orinthia T. Montague.

The celebration also included a performance by the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers. The community singing group was founded by Ithaca College associate professor Baruch Whitehead to preserve and share the music of the “Negro Spirituals,” and was named in honor of Cotton, herself a talented singer.

Cotton was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Ithaca College in 2011. She passed away at her home in Ithaca on June 10, at the age of 88.