Jamida Orange, Atlanta activist, dies at 52

Child of civil rights movement leaders

Bus number 3 on a tour last March of the civil rights sites of Selma, Alabama, was full of children. After bus leaders Jamida Orange and John Taylor told the kids about people, places and events of the movement, Orange asked them to draw a picture of “how you feel in your life every day.”

“One little girl’s drawing showed her hiding because she said she didn’t want people to see her,” Taylor said. “It was hard for her in school, other kids were picking on her. She wanted to be invisible.” Orange talked to the little girl, sharing her own experiences as a Black woman, of growing up and having difficult moments in which she also felt invisible.

“That was Jamida,” said Taylor, who works with the Black Male Initiative Georgia. “She was talking to the child on her level and connecting with her. She let her know she was there for her. I never met anyone Jamida couldn’t connect with.”

Jamida Orange, 52, who was born in 1970 to two of Atlanta’s civil rights warriors and became an organizer and activist in her own time, died Sunday morning at her home in Fairburn.

She was the daughter of Cleo Orange and the late Rev. James Orange, who worked as one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s aides in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference before traversing the country as a union organizer with the AFL-CIO.

The cause of her death hasn’t been made public. She is survived by her mother, her brother Cleon, and sisters Deirdre Orange and Tamara Orange. A public gathering will be held October 27 from 4-8 p.m. at Willie Watkins Historic West End Chapel at 1003 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. A service will be held October 28 at 11:00 a.m. at Enon Baptist Church, 3550 Enon Road in Atlanta.

A graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, Jamida Orange returned to Atlanta and worked for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and the Dekalb Probate Court before discovering her passion in 2012 while volunteering with the advocacy organization, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

Almost from childhood, she seemed destined to work in civil rights, said many who knew her. Her father was physically imposing at 6 feet 3 inches and 300 pounds, but he embraced nonviolence and included his family in whatever he was undertaking — labor issues, King Day celebrations or political campaigns.

As a student at Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University, Melanie Campbell met an 11-year-old Jamida as the little girl accompanied her father, who was working on Andrew Young’s mayoral campaign in 1981. Campbell later watched Jamida join Rev. Orange at Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day festivities and the annual memorial march from Selma to Montgomery, and “watched her step into her own leadership.”

Jamida later became part of Campbell’s Black Women’s Roundtable and served on the national board of the SCLC.

Working with the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Jamida helped plan events throughout the state. She focused on voter education and voter registration, said Helen Butler, her supervisor.

“Her official title was safety director, but she did much more than that,” Butler said. “She was a bridge builder, very organized, very bright, a solid kind of person who calmed everyone. She was very good at teaching young people about peaceful protest.”

Jamida assumed the responsibility for planning Atlanta’s King Day march in 2008. She also coordinated the annual march honoring Bloody Sunday, to commemorate the day civil rights demonstrators were assaulted by Alabama State Troopers in Selma as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. She helped plan the King Center’s March for Humanity. And following the murder of George Floyd, Orange assisted and monitored young men and women participating in peaceful protests.

King’s daughter Bernice King considered Jamida a kindred spirit who “was obviously very committed to carrying on her father’s legacy, and she did a tremendous job in capturing his spirit of galvanizing diverse groups of people for the march,” she said.

Campbell, now the president of the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, believed Jamida “had the spirit of her father.” Many who knew her said she radiated peace, never expressing anger or cruelty.

“She was reared in the movement,” said Hank Stewart, president of the Stewart Foundation, an Atlanta youth leadership nonprofit. It was no surprise to him that Jamida would lead “a life of service. She had an old soul. We just know we’ve lost a lot of wisdom with her passing.”