Rosalyn Pelles


Rosalyn “Roz” Pelles serves as director of the Department of Women and Human Rights at the AFL-CIO. Both she and her husband, Don Pelles, are former leaders of the Communist Workers Party (CWP), a Maoist organization.

In 1975, Rosalyn, then a young African American divorcee, was living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with her two children. At the time, Don Pelles, who is white, was a “practice teacher” in the classroom of Rosalyn’s oldest son.  Mr. Pelles eventually approached Rosalyn about the primary teacher’s behavior toward her son, which he suggested was racist. A relationship evolved from this encounter, and the two were married in 1977.

During the Pelleses’ time with the Communist Workers Party, the organization was involved in what has become known as the “Greensboro Massacre.” The earliest seeds of this incident were sown when CWP — which had moved into Greensboro, North Carolina in order to radicalize the area’s large population of impoverished blacks — intruded on a 1979 Ku Klux Klan rally 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. 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 white 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 Rosalyn Pelles was active with the National Black Independent Political Party, which, she explains, “focused on ensuring social justice, political, electoral and economic power for African Americans.”

In 1998 Pelles became involved in the founding of the Black Radical Congress (BRC), along with such notables as Amiri BarakaAngela DavisLewis GordonJulianne MalveauxManning MarableCornel West, and many others.

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.”

Also in 2007, Pelles made a bid for the Maryland Democratic Central Committee delegate seat previously held by her late friend Jane Lawton, but was defeated.

In 2010, Pelles was a key organizer and steering-committee liaison for the One Nation Working Together rally held in Washington, DC.  A project of the Tides Center, this event was attended by a large compendium of radical organizations.

Today Pelles serves as the nominations-committee chair for the Highlander Research and Education Center, a leftist movement-building organization headquartered in Tennessee.

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