Theodora Lacey is an elderly Black woman with grey hair in a pony tail wearing a black suit smiling with an artistic photo of herself.

Civil Rights Activist Theodora Lacey Receives Clara Lemlich Award at The Museum of The City of New York

May 28, 2024

Labor Arts, an organization that gathers, identifies and displays cultural artifacts in order to encourage more people to appreciate the history of work and working people, presented the Clara Lemlich Awards in conjunction with The Puffin Foundation at The Museum of the City of New York. Teaneck’s own civil rights activist, Theodora Lacey, was presented with the award by Jeremy Lentz, Director of Special Projects at The Puffin Foundation. The Clara Lemlich award for social activism celebrates the lives of incredible women whose many decades of brilliant activism have enabled real and lasting world change. The event honors activist women in their 80s, 90s, and 100s who are still working in their communities.

Clara Lemlich, known for her rousing speech to garment workers in 1909, advocated for workers’ rights
shouting in her native tongue of Yiddish “I’ve got something to say!” Her speech led to an unexpected vote to strike, and to what would become known as “The Uprising of 20,000.” The 1909 strike led to reforms, but the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a hold-out, and refused to implement safety improvements.

In 1911, The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory went on fire and took 146 lives. This was seen across the country
as a tragedy that could have been avoided, and it sparked a movement that pushed politicians to accept a new notion about the responsibilities of government. Lemlich continued to be active in the labor movement until she was forced to leave over alleged leftist politics. She continued to work for women’s suffrage, led a boycott of butcher shops to protest meat prices, campaigned for unemployment relief, and fought for tenants’ rights.

Theodora Lacey, this year’s recipient, is a retired Teaneck science teacher. She has devoted decades of her life to fighting racial and social injustice. She and her late husband, Archie, met during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and moved to Teaneck shortly thereafter. While in Teaneck they got involved in Fair Housing and were responsible for spearheading a 1960s movement that led to Teaneck’s historic school board vote to make Teaneck the first town in the United States to integrate its public school system.

Other recipients included Muriel Fox, feminist leader/author and founder of NOW, Priscilla Bassett, civil
rights activist Dorthaan Kirk, champion of jazz and Estela Vazquez, social justice warrior with The Young Lords and The Black Panthers.

Photo credit: Jeremy Lentz

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