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Remembering Human Rights Activist Lillian Lazenberry Martin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Caring and Resilient. Those are two words that come to mind when people talk about Lillian Lazenberry Martin.

She was very active in the Twin Cities during the 1970s and 80s, serving on many boards and commissions.

Lillian's family is remembering her as a woman who cared deeply about social issues and showed remarkable resilience as she raised six children on her own.

Lauren Miller is one of Lillian's granddaughters.

"I feel like everywhere we went, somebody knew my grandmother, whether they served on a committee together or on a board together," Lauren said.

She has plenty of memories of her grandmother, and a collection of hundreds of columns her grandma wrote for an African-American newspaper called the "Twin Cities Courier."

"She just wrote about a lot of different issues that I think hit home personally for her, but were also central points of conversation within, you know, especially the Minneapolis-St. Paul area," Lauren said.

Lillian Lazenberry Martin
Lillian Lazenberry Martin (credit: CBS)

Lillian had plenty to write about. Her first marriage to her high school sweetheart ended in heartbreak.

"She actually supported my grandfather through medical school, and then after he left the family, she actually raised six kids on her own," Lauren said.

Lillian served on the Minnesota Human Rights Council, in addition to working full-time at First National Bank.

Her interest in human rights stemmed from her childhood experiences in segregated Louisiana.

She often shared her memory of not being allowed to go inside the public library.

"And her mom was like, 'Oh, we can't go in there.' And she was like, 'Well, why not?' And she was like, 'Because we are black, and blacks are not allowed in the library,'" Lauren said. "And my grandma said, like, from that young age, she was like infuriated. She said, 'I'm going to read, I'm going to go in there.'"

For 32 years, Lillian served on the board of directors for what is now Summit Academy OIC, a job training center in Minneapolis that helps people get back on their feet.

"Her own experience, having to raise six kids on her own and find a way to do that, I think that she really was able to then empathize and be compassionate, especially with other women," Lauren said. "The challenges that I have gone through, I literally always think about my grandmother during them and think, if she got through what she got through, like, there's no reason why I can't."

Lillian Lazenberry Martin passed away on Sept. 13. She was 89 years old.

Donations in her honor can be made to the Summit Academy.

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