A year ago, JaTaune Bosby became the first Black woman to lead the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama. Her appointment happened during a tumultuous time in the country with the pandemic and last year’s summer of racial reckoning.
After months of working from home, Bosby is back in the office hanging pictures and paintings, including one of a woman with a massive afro. On one side it reads “Follow Black Women,” a quote Bosby has lived by throughout her career. Within the afro are the names of some prominent Black women.
“Many of these names are my family members, but Isabel Wilkerson, the author of ‘Caste,’ Assata Shakur, Sonya Sanchez, Angela Davis, so many women in this piece that mean a lot to me,” Bosby said.
Their gift to me was a commissioned piece inspired by #FollowBlackWomen, which is very much my own personal testimony of the women who have loved and lifted me throughout my life. We don’t journey through alone and I’m grateful that I stand on the shoulders of so many. pic.twitter.com/GqvRaKzwvU
— JaTaune B. (@JaTauneB) September 2, 2020
Born and raised in Chicago, Bosby worked for a behavioral health agency on the city’s west side. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and her master’s from Northwestern University. But she always felt a tug to return to Alabama where her grandfather laid roots.
Bosby was recruited to work for the ACLU of Alabama in 2015. In August 2020, she became executive director of the organization which previously had only white leaders.
“My predecessors, while different, they taught me a great deal,” she said. “I think that my lived experiences and the people that I am proximate to and situated with just allow me a different frame of understanding.”
Dillon Nettles, director of policy and advocacy at the ACLU of Alabama, said Bosby is a person who really understands Alabama’s history.
“She also understands the sacrifice of leaders before us and how we should really continue that work today,” he said.
Nettles pointed out that Bosby took over the organization just two months after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked weeks of protests worldwide.
He watched her absorb the different feelings among the staff surrounding Floyd’s death: the rage, disappointment and the drive to do something. Nettles called last summer an awakening.
“It shook us all, and it’s because we are personally impacted,” he said. “We are impacted through the work that we do here at this organization every day. And JaTaune inherited this organization at a time in which everyone was going through it.”
Bosby, 34, recognizes the frequent police killings of Black men affect communities of color. She said the ACLU of Alabama now has to be even more intentional about its efforts to move the state forward.
“We normally do not see a lot of Black women in top-tier positions, such as organizations like the ACLU. And, not to dwell heavily into identity politics, but representation matters,” she said.
Bosby is well aware of that and is making her face known. Earlier this year, she addressed a crowd at a rally outside Alabama’s state capitol during the legislative session.
Bosby has a long list of issues on her plate including voting rights, LGBTQ rights and racial justice. But she believes she’s leading the ACLU of Alabama in what’s the latest iteration of the civil rights movement.