Born with activism in her blood, Gwendolyn Florence Green, was created to lead with Love. At three pounds this baby girl came into the world on April 22, 1925, in Oakland California. Her parents, Rosalie and Edward Smith, along with her grandparents were involved in numerous community organizations, trade unions and churches in determination to improve the lives of African Americans in their community.
Gwen’s journey into activism began the day her grandfather, Robert L. Williams, took her by the hand as he canvassed the neighborhood for signatures for a petition to force the Oakland District Attorney to hire a Black secretary. An initiation victory for the community, this led to her grandfather and many more elders guiding Gwen’s life commitment to social and economic justice for African Americans.
During a social event while in the Armed Forces, Gwen met Arthur E. Green. She shortly moved to Colorado to marry him on June 14, 1944. The couple settled in Boulder where Gwen gave birth to her first-born daughter, Claudia Ann on April 16, 1945.
Boulder proved to be harsh for Gwen and her family. The African American community was very small and were often mistreated. After a year, she and Arthur returned to Oakland to live a life of activism.
Back in Oakland, Gwen was encouraged to volunteer with the Oakland chapter of the NAACP. When volunteer work eventually led to a fulltime job, she was exposed to civil rights work on the national level by attending the National Convention in Oklahoma City, 1952.
Gwen and Arthur then moved to San Diego, where they had their second daughter Robin Louise on May 5, 1956. Two years later, the family moved to Los Angeles after Arthur received a promotion.
After moving to LA, Gwen joined the Los Angeles Chapter of NAACP. She also joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church and served at Ward AME, Brookins AME, and First AME Church. During this time, she developed a 40-year friendship with Bishop H. H. Brookins, another activist and community leader.
In 1960, Gwen and Arthur co-founded the New Frontier Democratic Club, the largest Democratic Club in the state of California to this day. That year, Gwen also met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., after sitting with his wife, Coretta Scott King, during his speech at Second Baptist Church. Coretta shortly became one of Gwen’s lifelong friends.
In 1962, Dr. King requested Gwen and local LA pastors, Rev. Larry Odom, Rev. Maurice Dawkins, Rev. James Hargett and Rev. John Doggett, formed the Western Christian Leadership Conference (WCLC), currently known as SCLC. Working as Administrative Assistant to then President, Rev. Larry Odom, Gwen helped raise millions of dollars in Los Angeles for civil rights work in the South.
In 1963, Gwen was appointed Regional Coordinator for the March on Washington. Two years later, she was asked by Dr. King to serve as Assistant Director to Hosea Williams for SCLC’s Summer Community Organization and Political Education project (SCOPE). While working with SCOPE, she became “Mama” to thousands of college students who went south to help African Americans register to vote. Gwen joined many activists in marching through six states in the South and 120 counties providing voter registration and education.
In the 1970s, Gwen served as a Senior Deputy to Senator John Tunney. She then serves as a Council Aide to Councilman Robert Farrell. Gwen assisted in the campaign to rename Santa Barbara Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In 1989, Gwen worked with noted labor leader Ophelia McFadden in the establishment of what is now SEIU Long Term Care Workers, Local 2015. She was an instrumental part in convincing the Board of Supervisors to authorize the unionization of home care workers. After the homecare workers were unionized. Gwen went on to work with the union for 26 years, advocating for the rights workers to receive a living wage.
Gwen’s political involvement was strong throughout California. She worked on campaigns for and befriended many historical civil rights leaders. She also continued to work closely with community-based organizations.
Gwen was truly a political animal, from her love of attending political events to her daily viewing of MSNBC. She enjoyed traveling, jazz concerts, and going out to eat. But she was the happiest when she was soaking up the sun near a pool or beach with a good drink! Above all, was her love for her family and friends. She was especially proud of the achievements and milestones made by her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Towards the end of her life, Gwen met her special caregiver, Rayette Caldwell, a loving friend to her until the day she passed.
Gwendolyn Florence Green departed this life on February 4, 2022, leaving an indelible legacy of service, leadership, and compassion. She was preceded in death by her daughter, Claudia and former husband, Arthur. She leaves to cherish her memory, daughter, Robin Smith, granddaughters Summer Wheaton, Marissiko Wheaton, and Joanna Smith, grandson Robert Earl Caldwell, Jr. granddaughter-in-law, Shana Caldwell and great-granddaughters Claudia Caldwell, Jocelyn Polk, Taylor Hosendove; cousins Llyod Stewart, Pat Barton, Jacqui Willis, Brandon Brown, Marley Brown, former sons-in law, Frank Wheaton and Jesse Smith and many other family members, and friends.
Gwen worked for over 70 years to uplift this nation and empower its people. This country improved because of her many contributions. She will be truly missed.
“Well done thou good and faithful servant” – Matthew 25:23