Born Cynthia DeLores Nottage in North Philadelphia in 1927, the woman who would become famous as C. DeLores Tucker was the tenth of 11 children. But she didn’t let being one of the youngest in a large family overwhelm her.
When she was just 16 and a student at Girls High, she protested outside Philly’s Bellevue-Stratford Hotel because the establishment wouldn’t rent rooms to Black athletes.
Tucker later marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama and became known as a powerful orator.
Her activism sparked a political career.
She was a major player in the local NAACP chapter and Philly’s Democratic Party. In 1968, Mayor James Tate appointed Tucker to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment — making her the first Black person to serve on that body.
In 1971, Tucker notched a bigger first: Gov. Milton Shapp appointed her Secretary of the Commonwealth, making her the first Black woman in Pennsylvania history to hold a cabinet position.
According to newspaper accounts, she was the highest-ranked Black woman in any state government.
Tucker became a strident voice for voting rights and voting access.
She helped lower the voting age in Pennsylvania to 18 and promoted voter registration by mail. She also used her new bully pulpit to stress voter registration — particularly among women and Black people.
“Two things move the power brokers of America,” Tucker told the Inquirer in 1971, “the buck and the ballot. We don’t all have equal bucks, but we all have equal ballots.”
Her run as a cabinet secretary ended in turmoil. Shapp fired her in 1977 for using government employees to write outside speeches — for which received fees totaling $65,000.
Tucker and her supporters saw the firing as politically and racially motivated. (A year earlier, she had tussled with Lt. Governor Ernest Kline for a key role in the state party.)
After her firing, Tucker received backing from the likes of Dick Gregory and Rosa Parks. And the Rev. Jesse Jackson headlined a gathering of Black political leaders to protest Tucker’s dismissal.
“We are here today because our national tribe has been attacked,” Jackson said. “One of the princesses of peace has been attacked.”
Tucker never regained her cabinet post. And despite multiple efforts, she never rose higher in state politics. But she also didn’t fade quietly into the night. Quite the opposite.
She became chair of the DNC’s Black Caucus and founded the National Congress of Black Women with Shirley Chisholm.
She remained a political player into the 90s, as quotable and pugnacious as ever.
For instance, during a TV interview after the first Gulf War, Tucker said: “We spent $500 billion on that war in Iraq and, and Hussein still lives. We could have spent $6,000 and sent the boys in the ‘hood over there and they would have taken care of Hussein and taken care of him permanently.”
In the fall of 1993, Tucker turned her confrontational tactics on a new target: gangsta rap.
She said she had no problem with the musical genre. “The beat is terrific,” she told the Inquirer. But she did have a problem with the lyrics.
Tucker felt Black youth were being barraged with songs that valorized violence and degraded women. She and her supporters began to picket record stores, which led to her repeated arrest. She told the Inquirer she was “ready to die…to stop this pornographic filth.”
Tucker’s crusade garnered national attention, and brought her new political bedfellows. Her public allies in the fight against gangsta rap included Joe Lieberman and conservative firebrand Bill Bennett.
Her protests targeted some of rap’s biggest stars, most notably Tupac Shakur after the NAACP nominated him for one of its Image Awards. And those stars, in turn, took aim at Tucker.
As a result, she was repeatedly dissed in rap songs. C. DeLores Tucker has been insulted or mentioned by Tupac, Jay-Z, Eminem, Lil’ Kim, and Lil’ Wayne, among others.
Tucker pressed on. In fact, the historical plaque outside her former Mt. Airy home makes prominent mention of her anti-gangsta-rap activism — although it was merely the final chapter in a varied public life.
Tucker died in 2005 at age 78.