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Martha Rivera Chavis, the devoted wife of civil rights leader and National Newspaper Publishers Association President and CEO Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., died Thursday in her Montclair, N.J., home. 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 in the Dominican Republic,” 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 blown-off limbs, a fact that moved both Chavis and his wife.
When Chavis met Martha Rivera, she was 29 and employed translating French to Portuguese for Angola’s United Nations ambassador. They married in September of 1989.
One month later, Chavis again visited Angola. After he returned, the couple cared for 10 Angolans, including six with missing limbs, in their Montclair 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-born Rivera Chavis would later tell reporters that her husband had been “transformed” by his visit to Angola and made a commitment to help Angolans and be more “international-minded,” a cause to which she became just as committed.
The couple had a total of eight children, five together and three from Chavis’s previous marriage.
Funeral services are pending. Messages of condolence should be sent to the NNPA national office, 1816 12th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20009.