Aileen Clarke Hernandez (born 1926) has worked tirelessly for labor rights, women's rights, and civil rights for US people of color for over 50 years, and sees these issues as ultimately interconnected. Her life of service includes public appointments and innumerable projects at local, state, and national levels. A committed feminist, she was the second national president of the National Organization for Women, and is currently chair of the California Women's Agenda, a coalition of 600 local women's organizations.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Aileen attended Howard University, a traditionally black institution in Washington, DC. She earned a bachelor of arts in political science and sociology while also picketing and demonstrating against racism in the nation's capital, a segregated city. Aileen experienced sexism at Howard, and comments, "As a black woman I have had no choice but to be involved in both struggles." After graduation, she became an organizer for the International Lady Garment Workers Union. Later she was the only woman on the original five-member US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, appointed by president Johnson in 1965 and charged with investigating discrimination in employment. Aileen threw herself into this work with characteristic energy, integrity, and enthusiasm, but resigned in 1967, frustrated with the caution and slow progress in the agency's work. A committed feminist, Aileen was a founding member of the National Women's Political Caucus and the second national president of the National Organization for Women. She currently chairs the California Women's Agenda, a network that seeks to implement the Beijing Plan of Action and to make connections among women leaders internationally. As a participant in three major movements (for worker's rights, civil rights, and women's rights) Aileen has seen significant change in her long activist life although, since the 1990s, these changes have been under attack. Aileen has served on innumerable committees and boards, and participated in even more projects. Her insistence that racism and sexism are interrelated is both a gift and a lesson to contemporary organizers and activists. For over 50 years she has worked tirelessly at local, national, and UN levels, yet she remains remarkably modest, approachable, and open to challenges, always "ahead of the curve".
California Women's Agenda