Martha Rivera Chavis, the devoted wife of civil rights leader and National Newspaper Publishers Association President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., has died.
Rivera Chavis passed away in her home in Montclair, N.J. at 3 a.m. on Thursday, July 6.
She was 53.
“As First Lady of the NNPA and as the former First Lady of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1993 to 1994, Martha Rivera Chavis was a loving mother and strong advocate for freedom, justice and equality in the United States, Africa and the Dominican Republic,” Dr. Chavis said in a statement released early Thursday.
Chavis and his wife met in June 1989 after the civil rights activist had spent time in Angola, where American-backed rebels mined civilian areas.
At the time, Angola had one of the highest percentages of individuals with missing limbs, victims of the country’s brutal civil war, a fact that moved both Dr. Chavis and his wife.
When Chavis met Martha Rivera, she was 29 and employed as a French-to-Portuguese translator for Angola’s United Nation’s ambassador.
They married in September of 1989 and, one month later, Dr. Chavis again visited Angola.
After he returned, the couple cared for 10 Angolans, including six with missing limbs, in their Montclair, N.J. home.
“When they went back to Africa, they went back with prosthetics,” Martha Rivera Chavis told the Associated Press in 1993. “That was a wonderful experience.”
The Dominican Republic-born Rivera Chavis would later tell reporters that her husband had been “transformed” by his visit to Angola and that he made a commitment to help Angolans and also to be more “international-minded.”
Rivera Chavis was also transformed by the experience and she became just as committed as her husband was to that cause and movements for freedom, justice and equality—hallmarks of Dr. Chavis’ life and career.
The couple have a total of eight children—five together and three from Dr. Chavis’ previous marriage.
Dorothy Leavell, the chairman of the NNPA and publisher of the Crusader Newspaper Group said, “Our hearts and prayers are with Dr. Benjamin Chavis and his family, as the news of the death of his wife, Martha, reached us this morning.”
Leavell continued: “We know the sacrifice that his family, especially his wife, has made in sharing Dr. Chavis with the NNPA and its member publishers, as he performed the many tasks required as President of the NNPA. As Chairwoman of the NNPA, I stand ready to assist him and his loved ones, at this very crucial time.”
Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced later. Messages of condolence should be sent to the NNPA national office, 1816 12th St NW, Washington, D.C., 20009.