Judy Collins on breaking barriers of race and gender

CBS News asked noted figures in the arts, business and politics about their experience in today's civil rights movement, or about figures who inspired them in their activism.

Judy Collins, singer-songwriter, author, social activist, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

When it comes to equality, what issues are most important to you?

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Judy Collins
Equality is a term that we apply to racial issues, to gender issues, to financial issues and the issues that are perhaps the most dominant in our lives, both economic and racial -- racial, for me, coming first in my life because that was the first issue, as a girl growing up in the fifties who became aware of inequality.

I went to a high school in East Denver, basically an upper middle-class high school, and we voted in an African-American for our President of Class in 1957. We were trying to break the racial barriers then. (Jessie Owens was one of our motivational speakers when I was in school in Denver.)

We struggled as girls (and as women) to do whatever it was we wanted . . . which meant I always wanted to do what the boys did. As far as financially equality, I've looked for that to become more equal between men and women; it hasn't. We're still at 70 percent, and men are at 100 percent.

I think both of those issues have been very vital in my life, because of what I've done, what I've said, what I've sung, what I felt, and what I had marched for has been fundamental to my own life.

Please share how a civil rights figure influenced you personally?

I went to Mississippi in 1964 to register voters. I traveled and lived with African Americans. As a civil rights worker, there were many people down there in Mississippi that were fundamental and inspiring. The most inspiring were, of course, the people who were African American [who] came out of their houses terrified and managed to get down and register. The voices that we heard were so incredibly inspiring -- the bravery to do that!

Fanny Lou Harris was so inspiring to me, but also Shirley Chisholm, who was one of the first women to run for President, and the first person of color to run for President. The extraordinary women who broke the color barrier to do wonderful things in politics and in the social realm.

I can't think of where we would be if it was not for Martin Luther King, of course, because he galvanized people to come out of their homes and to march and sometimes even get killed. This was not an easy road that was traveled to this place.


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