(SACRAMENTO) – Having grown up in the Jim Crow South, Dr. Marion Woods knew all too well the chains of hatred and racism. After a life dedicated to securing freedom through equal opportunities for others, local civil rights icon Dr. Marion Woods has passed after suffering a heart attack this week. Memorial services are pending.

“He was a King walking on this earth for 87 years,” shared his daughter Lynnis Woods-Mullins.

“He touched thousands of lives and his legacy is one of service, duty, and ultimate love for his community and family,” Ms. Woods-Mullins continued.

Dr. Woods grew up in Marietta, Georgia, where his mother, whom he compared to Rosa Parks, was a trailblazer, who worked to open up local social organizations and facilities that weren’t open to Blacks at the time. Integration would become a large part of his life’s work.

Dr. Woods was a childhood friend and schoolmate of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Morehouse College in Atlanta and recalled fondly attending the March on Washington in 1965 and hearing Dr. King deliver his iconic “I Have A Dream Speech” in person.  

Living in Sacramento by then, Dr. Woods was already putting that dream into action. In 1963, Woods was hired by the California Department of Employment as its Superintendent of Minority Employment. It was his job to get Blacks into jobs within the Department. His research on California’s dismal record of hiring African Americans for state jobs led to then Gov. Pat Brown establishing the state’s first Human Rights Office. He also influenced the establishment of Fair Employment Practices Commission and alongside state legislator Byron Rumford, put pressure on the federal Department of Labor to create equal opportunity programs that gave rise to Affirmative Action programs in the late 1960s and ‘70s.

Dr. Woods was a founding member of the Sacramento Urban League, founding director of Sacramento’s poverty program, the Sacramento Area Economic Opportunity Council and served as the state director of the Department of Social Welfare. Dr. Woods chaired the Sacramento Civil Service Commission and served as president of the Center for Educational Excellence and Equity, and served on the executive boards of such local organizations as the Sacramento NAACP and the Women’s Civic Improvement Center.

His efforts to bring about change earned him the nickname of “The Bridge Builder.” In 2015, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, Dr. Woods told the Sacramento OBSERVER that it was his desire to build on that reputation and help bridge the gap between his generation and younger African Americans. He said there was still work to be done.

“There are more Blacks incarcerated today than were enslaved in 1850. This march 50 years later has to be a reminder of things that were not done and a continuation of that battle and that struggle,” he said.

Dr. Woods was also a retired veteran, having served in the US Air Force, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel and was a proud member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. His accomplishments throughout his life earned him a number of accolades, including the Sacramento OBSERVER’s Medallion of Honor in 2003.

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer