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Detroit voting rights advocate Mildred Madison dies at 97

This article was originally published by CBS News Detroit.

Longtime voting rights advocate Mildred Madison, who campaigned for Detroit City Council members to be elected by district, died on Aug. 16 at age 97, her family says.

Madison's family held a funeral service on Friday, Aug. 25. A memorial will held at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 29, at the Plymouth United Church of Christ (600 E. Warren Ave., Detroit). It will be live-streamed at

"A big part of what has made City government more responsive and accountable to Detroiters has been the change to electing council members by district. Mildred Madison was a driving force behind that change, and we see the benefits of it every day. She spent her life fighting for the rights of voters and made a tremendous impact that will last for generations to come," Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement.

At age 94, Madison made headlines when she traveled 600 miles to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Madison, who was staying with her son in Illinois, told CNN she was going back to Detroit to vote after not receiving her absentee ballot.

"I said I had better go back to Detroit and make sure that I vote," she told CNN. "I'm glad I did because I haven't seen a ballot yet."

She was later interviewed by Oprah and then-presidential candidate Joe Biden ahead of the election.

Born Mildred Thomas on June 5, 1926, in Milwaukee, she graduated from Howard University with a degree in marketing and accounting, her family says. She also sang in the Howard University Choir and was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

She served on the Ohio State Board of Education, the Cleveland City Council, and the Cleveland Board of Education, where she became the first female president. While in Cleveland, she worked with the Cleveland League of Women Voters, leading the National League of Women Voters to select the city for the presidential debate before Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

She moved to Detroit and continued her advocacy, serving as president of the Detroit League of Women Voters. Her family says she spoke against voting barriers for senior citizens and pushed for Detroiters to vote.

Detroit Council President Mary Sheffield says Madison is a "true American hero who used her voice to uplift the importance of education and the protection of the franchise of voting in our country." 

"As a city, we were lucky to have Mrs. Madison do an abundance of her work right here in Detroit through her service with the League of Women Voters, which included the institution of council by districts," Sheffield said in a statement. "Mrs. Madison will be sorely missed, but her legacy will live on as an architect and defender of democracy in our Nation, and she will forever be a shining example for women in public service."

Madison is survived by her children: son Dr. Julian Madison Jr., his wife Riezl; daughter Sharon Madison, her husband Michael Steinback; her son George Graham; and several grandchildren, nieces and nephews.