- Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
International Civil Rights: Walk of Fame
Rita Jackson Samuels
Rita Jackson Samuels

Rita Jackson Samuels has been an advocate for civil rights since her youth when she served as a secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Operation Breadbasket department under the administration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Since that time she has worked with all SCLC presidents: Abernathy, Lowery, King III, Shuttlesworth, and Steele. After dedicating more than three decades to advocacy, Samuels established Women Flying High, LLC a highly successful small business that is instrumental in forming strategic alliances and joint venture opportunities increasing women’s share of government contracts.

Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Samuels emerged as one of Georgia’s most prolific women’s rights advocates. She is the Founder and former Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition of Black Women, Inc., a women’s advocacy training and development organization established in 1980. As Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition of Black Women, Inc. she created numerous innovative programs advancing Georgia women and girls including the “Just for Girls Computer Camp,” computer training for Foster Children, and one of the first government relations and public policy training initiatives specifically for Black women in Georgia. She is credited with helping to launch the careers of several Black women leaders from rural counties and many "firsts" including mayors, commissioners, and judges. In 1999 she founded the Women In Government Internship Program to assist young women interested in careers in government.

A deep appreciation for the need to preserve women’s history led Samuels to create the First Ladies Archive project placing the profiles of Georgia First Ladies in the State Archives. She also went on to produce and distribute the Resource Guide to the Social and Economic Contributions of Georgia Women in collaboration with Emory University. She served on the Board of the National Women’s History Museum and was selected by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter as a Rosalynn Carter Fellow at the Institute of Women’s Studies at Emory University.

In 1977 and 1998 she was selected by the Atlanta Business League as one of the 100 Most influential Black Women in Atlanta. In 2000 she was selected by the Atlanta Chapter of the National Negro Business and Professional Women as the 2000 Business Women of the Year. Since 1993 she has consistently been selected by the Georgia Informer as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Georgia.

Rita Jackson Samuels was the first Black female in Georgia’s history to serve on the personal staff of a Georgia Governor. In 1971 she was then Governor Jimmy Carter’s Coordinator of the Governor’s Council on Human Relations. Governor Carter personally selected her to direct and coordinate the hanging of the Martin Luther King, Jr. portrait in the State Capitol, a controversial assignment at that time. She also coordinated the hanging of portraits of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and Mrs. Lucy Craft Laney.

She worked as a consultant with the Carter White House Staff in 1977 as well as with the Community Services Administration. In 1983, Samuels served as Director of former Mayor Andrew Young’s Office of Citizens & Community Affairs. She also served on the national board of a national anti-poverty rural development agency.

She lobbied for and the served as the first Chair of the Georgia Commission on Women. She has been widely recognized for her work on behalf of Georgia women. She has been awarded keys to several small towns, including her hometown of Forsyth, Georgia. Governor Joe Frank Harris appointed her to the State Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission and he appointed her as the very first African American to serve on the Georgia State Election Board. She was re-appointed to the King Commission by Governors Zell Miller and Roy Barnes. A former staff member, she currently serves on the National Board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also serves as a Board Member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Child Development Center and on the Mission Board for the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights.

Samuels attended Clafin University, Morris Brown College, and Georgia State University. She received Certification for successfully completing the Dimery Business College course of Business & Secretarial Science.

She and her husband Stanley, of more than 25 years, are members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.