Odessa Woolfolk

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Odessa Woolfolk (born December 19, 1932 in Birmingham) is a former educator, executive director of the Birmingham Opportunity Industrialization Center, and founding board chair of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Woolfolk, the daughter of Emmett Woolfolk Sr and his wife, Nellie was raised in Birmingham's Titusville community. She graduated from A. H. Parker High School. She went on to complete her bachelor of arts in history and political science at Talladega College and a master's in urban studies from Occidental College in California. Since then she has completed more graduate studies at the University of Chicago and at Yale University, as a National Urban Fellow.

Wollfolk began her teaching career at Ullman High School in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. She was a much-loved and influential teacher who set a fearless example for her students. After leaving teaching, she pursued a career in public policy through the Urban Reinvestment Task Force in Washington D.C., New York State Urban Development Corporation in New York City, the YWCA in Utica, New York, and the Arbor Hill Community Center and Inter-Racial Council in Albany, New York.

Woolfolk returned to Birmingham to become executive director of the Birmingham Opportunity Industrialization Center and associate director of the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity. At the invitation of Ed LaMonte, she joined the faculty of UAB in 1972 as director of its Center for Urban Affairs, staff associate in the UAB Center for International Programs, and assistant to the president for community relations. She retired from the university in 1993.

In the late 1980s, Woolfolk began working toward the creation of a civil rights museum in Birmingham. With the support of Mayor Richard Arrington, she succeeded in developing the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which opened in 1993. She served as chair of the task force and as the institute's founding administrator

Woolfolk has also served on many civic boards, including Region 2020, YWCA of Birmingham, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, Operation New Birmingham, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Birmingham Urban League, and the UAB Educational Foundation. She was a founding member of the board for Leadership Birmingham and founding co-chair of the Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast. She has also served as a trustee and moderator at First Congregational Church and chaired the Alabama chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Woolfolk has been honored at UAB with the UAB Honorary Alumni Award, UAB Outstanding Faculty Award, UAB President's Medal, and the creation of the Odessa Woolfolk Presidential Community Service Award. She has also been honored with the Humanities Award from the Alabama Humanities Foundation and with honorary degrees from Talladega College, Birmingham-Southern College, and the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Woolfolk was inducted into the Birmingham Gallery of Distinguished Citizens in 1994, to the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2008, and to the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame in 2023. The "Odessa Woolfolk Gallery" at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is also named in her honor.


  • Sewell, Terri (February 26, 2014) "Honoring Odessa Woolfolk During Black History Month 2014." Congressional Record Vol. 160, No. 2, pp. E256-E257

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