Rosalyn “Roz” Pelles is a black political and social activist who was born in October 1948. In 1975 she was a young divorcee living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with her two children, when she met Don Pelles, a white Jew who was serving as a “practice teacher” in the classroom of Rosalyn’s oldest son. At one point, Mr. Pelles informed Rosalyn that the primary teacher in charge of that class had been treating her son badly, perhaps even in a racist manner. A relationship evolved from this encounter between Rosalyn and Mr. Pelles, and the two eventually married in 1977.
In the 1970s as well, Rosalyn and Don Pelles alike were leading members of the Communist Workers Party (CWP), a Maoist organization that was involved in an infamous 1979 event that became known as the “Greensboro Massacre.” The earliest seeds of this incident were sown when CWP — which had moved into Greensboro, North Carolina in an effort to radicalize the area’s large population of impoverished blacks — intruded on a 1979 Ku Klux Klan rally that was taking place in the nearby town of China Grove. Brandishing guns, canes, and two-by-fours, CWP activists set a Confederate flag on fire and called for the “death of the Klan.” No one was injured in this confrontation, but soon thereafter, CWP organized a counter-assembly billed as a “Death to the Klan” rally and, in an open letter, challenged the KKK to attend the event, scheduled for November 3, 1979. On that day, members of the KKK and the American Nazi Party stormed the CWP rally, killing five demonstrators — four whites and one black. Rosalyn and Don Pelles were both present during the incident. Rosalyn would later serve as President of the Greensboro Justice Fund, which was established in memory of the CWP members who had been killed in the attack.
In the early 1980s, Pelles was an active member of the National Black Independent Political Party, which sought to advance African Americans’ political, electoral, and economic influence by breaking away from the traditional two-party system. “I was an active member at the national and local levels,” Pelles recalls, “and some members, also black, questioned my motives and commitment to the aims and goals of the organization because I was married to a white Jew. This made it difficult in some circumstances for me to do the political work I wanted to do.”
Pelles earned a BA in Psychology from North Carolina Central University in 1986, and a JD from the Howard University School of Law in 1989.
In 1998 Pelles became involved in the founding of the Black Radical Congress (BRC), along with such notables as Amiri Baraka, Angela Davis, Lewis Gordon, Julianne Malveaux, Manning Marable, Cornel West, and many others. BRC described itself as a “a new movement of Black radicalism” founded on a “militant spirit of resistance” to “America’s capitalist economy,” which “has completely failed us.”
From 2005-2013, Pelles was the Director of Civil, Human, and Women’s Rights at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C. As of August, 2007, she was also a staffer with the union federation’s Special Committee on Diversity.
At an April 2007 congressional press conference, Pelles spoke out in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill seeking to outlaw “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.”
From 2007-2013, Pelles earned an average annual salary of $118,629, and an average total compensation (including benefits) of $124,264 per year.
In 2010, Pelles was a key organizer and steering-committee liaison for the One Nation Working Together rally held in Washington, D.C. A project of the Tides Center, this event was attended by a large compendium of radical organizations.
Pelles served a stint as Nominations Committee chair for the Tennessee-based Highlander Research and Education Center, previously known as the Highlander Folk School, a leftist movement-building entity with a number of communist affiliations. She stepped down from this post in 2012.
In 2016, Pelles became Executive Director of an organization called Repairers of the Breach (ROTB). Two years later, she became its Vice President, a post she continues to hold. In its self-description, ROTB says: “We challenge the position that the preeminent moral issues are prayer in public schools, abortion, and property rights. Instead, we declare that the moral public concerns of our faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, women, LGBTQ people, children, workers, immigrants, communities of color, and the sick.”
In 2018, Pelles added to her existing workload by taking a part-time position as a senior strategic advisor to an organization called Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC). In PPC’s calculus, America is a nation thoroughly infested with “systemic racism” that is associated with: (a) enormous amounts of “poverty and inequality,” (b) the “mass incarceration” of black people, (c) “ecological devastation” that disproportionately affects the poor nonwhites, and (d) a “war economy” that siphons funds away from vital social-welfare services.
In July 2021, Pelles co-authored an article for Ms. magazine that said, in part: “The attack on democracy currently playing out in D.C. and in state legislatures like Texas is the worst we have seen since Reconstruction. Since January, there has been a wave of voter suppression laws across the country—while in the Senate, members of both parties continue to use the filibuster to block the political will of the majority of Americans. At the center of this crisis are poor women, especially poor women of color, who are facing increasingly unlivable conditions, none of which will change without a democracy that works for them…. [U]nshackling our democracy from voter suppression and procedural rules like the filibuster is inextricably linked to the work of building a nation where every person’s needs are met.”
“One Nation” Rally Organizer Linked to “Greensboro Massacre”, Black Radical Congress
By Trevor Loudon
October 7, 2010