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- circa 1970s-2010s (Creation)
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Julia Dawson is a feminist activist and retired lawyer from Miami, FL. Born and raised in Miami, Dawson has a long history of involvement with the feminist movement, primarily with the National Organization for Women (NOW). She has served on the board of numerous advocacy organizations in her capacity as both a feminist activist and lawyer; for example, she served as President for three Florida NOW chapters. In addition, Dawson has served on the Board of Directors of the Dade County Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers and the Board of SAVE Dade, which led the fight to successfully pass Miami-Dade County’s LGBTQ-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance and then defeat repeal efforts in 1998. After her retirement, Dawson was awarded a Stanley Milledge Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Civil Liberties Union Miami Chapter (ACLU) and Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava proclaimed June 4, 2019 as “Julia Dawson Day,” stating: “Julia has left an indelible mark on the social justice community in Miami-Dade and we will miss her tremendously … In her honor, we will continue the good fight for equity and justice for all” (qtd. in DeVane).
Dawson began organizing with the feminist movement in the early 1970s, quickly having a dramatic impact. For example, in 1975 during her tenure as President of NOW South Brevard Chapter she established the South Brevard Women’s Center, which remains open today. Later, at age thirty-five, she entered the Antioch School of Law in Washington, DC, graduating in 1979. After graduating, she returned to Miami and has pursued fighting for women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and civil rights ever since. Her career as an activist has taken various forms including on-the-ground protesting, chairing panels and committees, pushing for legislative reform, and publishing reports related to her endeavors – all in the name of anti-sexism, anti-racism, and anti-homophobia. Her written scholarship largely relates to her role as the vice-chair of the ACLU Miami Chapter’s Police Practices Committee (PPC). Founded in January 2011 after the fatal shooting of seven Black men in seven months by Miami Police officers, the committee sought to investigate and review all police policies that may have contributed to shootings and pushed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to thoroughly investigate the incidences, which eventually led to the release of a 2013 report that stated the MPD used excessive and deadly force against the victims. Dawson conducted interviews and wrote reports on police practices, such as the use of body cameras. While some have received compensation for the unlawful deaths of their family members – for example, Sheila McNeil, whose son Travis McNeil was shot and killed while unarmed by a Miami police officer in 2011, received a settlement in 2015 – the families are as yet all waiting for justice in the form of criminal charges against the offending officers.
In addition to being recognized in the form of community-based honors, Dawson’s work has been recorded in academic scholarship – most notably in relation to women’s reproductive rights advocacy. In 1994 she founded the Miami Clinic Access Project, which organizes pro-choice community activists to defend local abortion clinics, thereby safeguarding women’s autonomy with regards to their reproductive rights. In her ethnographic work relating to pro-choice activism, Beverly Yuen Thompson discusses the problems faced by the “A Choice for Women” clinic in North Miami Beach, which serves women from as far as the Caribbean who sometimes have limited access to abortion clinics as some islands have more restrictive abortion laws than the U.S. Faced with confrontations with pro-life protesters who, in the words of Dawson, “have stated openly that their objective is to close [the] clinic down,” the MCAP attempt to defend the patients. Of one such confrontation that she witnessed, Thompson narrates: “The clinic was experiencing Saturday morning protests at which pro-life activists would approach and harass clinic patients as they entered the property. Dawson was able to organize a
group of committed local activists to defend the clinic each Saturday morning. MCAP members would remain at the clinic until all patients had left the premises, usually leaving before the pro-life prayer circle had ended” (17).
Though she is now officially retired as a lawyer, Dawson continues to remain active on issues pertaining to social justice and remains on the board of organizations such as the Miami Workers Center and Serve the People. She is the mother to a daughter and a son and also a grandmother.
Written by Laura Bass, UGrow Fellow for the Department of Manuscripts and Archives Management, 2019-2020
DeVane, Mia. “Miami-Dade Commission Honors Social Justice Advocate Dawson.” Miami Community Newspapers. 17 June 2019, communitynewspapers.com/featured/miami- dade-commission-honors-social-justice-advocate-dawson/.
Thompson, Beverly Yuen. “Defending a Choice for Women: Feminist Video Ethnography.” Feminist Activism in Academia: Essays on Personal, Political and Professional Change, edited by Ellen C. Mayock and Domnica Radulescu, McFarland and Company, 2010, pp. 11-26.
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- Dawson, Julia (Creator)
- National Organization for Women (NOW) (Subject)
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) -- Miami Chapter (Subject)
- Miami Workers' Center (Subject)