Labor Leader & Activist
Community activist Aileen Hernandez was born Aileen Clarke on May 23, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York to Jamaican-born parents. She graduated from Bay Ridge High School in 1943 as school newspaper editor, vice president, and salutatorian. Hernandez graduated magna cum laude from Howard University with her B.A. degree in political science in 1947. Hernandez briefly attended New York University before accepting an internship in Los Angeles, with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and later went on to earn her M.S. degree in government from California State University at Los Angeles in 1961. Hernandez worked for the ILGWU from 1951 to 1960; eventually she backed the efforts of the Federation of Union Representatives to obtain benefits from the ILGWU. In 1962, Hernandez was appointed by California Governor Pat Brown to be assistant chief of the California Division of Fair Employment Practices and began enforcing the state’s 1959 anti-discrimination law. In 1965, Hernandez was appointed a commissioner of the newly-formed United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by President Lyndon B. Johnson. As the first female and second minority appointed to the EEOC Commission, Hernandez paid particular attention to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1966, Hernandez co-founded the activist group, National Organization for Women (NOW). From 1970 to 1971, Hernandez served as the second national president of NOW, following Betty Friedan. In 1971, Hernandez helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus, and in 1972 helped create NOW’s Minority Women’s Task Force. That same year, Hernandez formed Sapphire Publishing Company with nine other black women. Hernandez served on the board of the Ms. Foundation from 1976 to 1985. She has taught at San Francisco State University and the University of California at Berkeley. Hernandez was a Regents Scholar in Residence at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1996. Hernandez has been honored by the National Urban Coalition, the Northern California American Civil Liberties Foundation, Howard University and many other organizations. In 2005, Hernandez was one of 1,000 women from 150 nations who were collectively nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their work in social justice and civil rights. Hernandez passed away on February 13, 2017.
"If I wanted my life to go a certain way, I had to stand up for things that I believed in."