Claretta Simpson was born in 1901 in Smedes, Miss. Her tireless work in civil rights with Dr. TRM Howard (a former professor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) and the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket, earned her the name “Mother Freedom.”
A deep civil rights activist, Simpson moved to Milwaukee, Wis. to serve the poverty-stricken community and to help underserved children. In 1970, Mother Freedom started Career Youth Development Inc., a social service program for poor families struggling with the worst perils of society. She started the business in her home with her own social security check. Her company slogan was “Love In Action.” After receiving a $28,000 grant from the U.S. government, the program has stayed alive for over 40 years and offers over 40 programs to help families in need. They grew to serve with over a $2 million budget.
In her first years of arriving in Milwaukee, Simpson was active in the integration of Milwaukee schools. She was part of a 30-day sit-in with the Milwaukee school board for school integration issues. The black students were being sent to the white schools to learn, but were not allowed to eat there.
She fought the unemployment practices of major chains like Sears, J.C. Penney and Gimbles department stores. Her biggest fight was with dime stores and the unfair practices of Woolworth. She helped to bring the first black employee to the chain that carried the stigma of lunch counter segregation nationwide.
Tragedy struck Simpson’s family when her granddaughter Cheryl, and 9-year-old great granddaughter, “Little Jeannetta,” were murdered in 1984. Then, in August 2005, Claretta “Mother Freedom” Simpson passed away. She was well over 100 years old. Simpson’s daughter, Jeannetta Robinson, followed in passing in 2008. She died while serving the community, as taught by her mother.
On August 4, 2004, the city of Milwaukee named the 2900 block of North 10th street “North Mother Simpson Way,” to honor the mother of so many in Milwaukee.