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Odessa Woolfolk

The following biographical sketch was compiled at the time of induction into the Academy in 2008.

Odessa Woolfolk is an educator and civic activist. Her leadership role in creating and sustaining the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is merely the best-known of many contributions to her city and state. She was one of the founders of Leadership Birmingham and has served on the boards of dozens of civic, community, corporate, and public policy organizations.

Born in the Titusville community of Birmingham, she graduated from the famed A. H. Parker High School, then earned a BA in history and political science at Talladega College and an MA in urban studies at Occidental College in California. She has done additional graduate study at the University of Chicago and was a National Urban Fellow at Yale University.

She began her career as a teacher at Birmingham’s Ullman High School, and then moved into public policy work with the Urban Reinvestment Task Force, Washington, D.C.; New York State Urban Development Corporation, New York City; YWCA, Utica, N.Y.; and Arbor Hill Community Center and Inter-Racial Council, Albany, N.Y.

In the 1970s, she returned home to Alabama as executive director of the Birmingham Opportunity Industrialization Center and associate executive director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity. For twenty-one years, she served the University of Alabama at Birmingham as director of the Center for Urban Affairs; lecturer in political science and public affairs; staff associate, Center for International Programs; and Assistant to the President for Community Relations. When she retired in 1993, her service to UAB was recognized with the establishment of the Odessa Woolfolk Presidential Community Service Award.

She has received the UAB Honorary Alumni Award, Outstanding Faculty Award, and President’s Medal, to name only a few. She was honored by the mayor and city council with induction into the Birmingham Gallery of Distinguished Citizens, and she has received honorary doctorates from her alma mater, Talladega College, from the University of the South in Tennessee, and from Birmingham-Southern College. Some 150,000 persons a year now honor her in a different way as they pass through the Odessa Woolfolk Gallery in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. She was the driving force behind the building of that internationally recognized museum depicting the struggles and victories of the American civil rights movement.

She is a long-time member of Birmingham’s First Congregational Church, which she has served as a trustee and moderator.

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