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Roberta Hughes Wright, widow of Dr. Charles H. Wright who founded Detroit's African-American history museum that bears his name, died Tuesday. She was 96.

Neil A. Barclay, president and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, issued a statement Wednesday morning praising Wright and expressing deep regret at her passing. 

Barclay called Wright "a fierce, stalwart supporter, who deeply believed in the mission of our institution. Her generous spirit left a mark — whether she was arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court or speaking with students at the museum. We are greatly saddened," Barclay added, "by the loss of this magnificent woman, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family."

Nettie Seabrooks, who was former Detroit Mayor Dennis W. Archer's chief of staff, says she knew Wright for at least 40 years, and in recent years lived just one floor beneath her in Detroit's Riverfront Towers apartments. 

Seabrooks described Wright as a petite woman, adding, "Graciousness is the thing I remember most about her. She was always very easy to be around." 

Wright, an attorney who also held a doctorate in education, married Charles Wright in 1989, after each of them had lost their spouses. 

"My first husband died in September 1985, and his wife died the same month," she told The Detroit News in 2012. "Dr. Wright happened to know my father, who was a physician, and said he wanted to talk to me about him. Anyway, we met and we married."

As Wright told everyone who asked, her husband was moved to found a museum honoring African-American history in 1965 because "he didn’t think black youngsters knew anything about black history. They didn’t have any pride, and didn’t seem interested in getting information on our background." 

Charles Wright, whom the Los Angeles Times called "the father of the national movement to establish African American museums," died in 2002. 

His widow, who published an autobiography titled "Reflections, My Life," remained heavily involved in the museum long after her husband's death. In 2012 she said she was serving on three committees -- "the Gala committee, the Friends Committee and the Women’s Committee." 

N. Charles Anderson, president and CEO of the Detroit Urban Leagues, says the nonprofit named Wright a Distinguished Warrior in 2009, its highest accolade for contributions to human and civil rights. 

 "After marrying Dr. Wright," he said, "she was a real promoter of social justice, the remembered African-American experience, and was instrumental in making sure the museum survived after Dr. Wright’s death." 

"She was," Anderson added, "just a beautiful woman and great spirit."

Funeral arrangements will be handled by Detroit's James H. Cole Home for Funerals, but as of Wednesday afternoon were still being finalized. 

mhodges@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-6021


 

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