Marie Galatas Ortiz, born in New Orleans in 1939, participated in many demonstrations, marches, boycotts, and founded Grass Roots Organization for Women (GROW), an organization once housed at 1610 Basin Street. (1) Ortiz became increasingly involved in the Civil Rights Movement after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. The tragic event inspired her to continue to strive for equality in her community. Ortiz remembered how she felt following the passing of Dr. King. “I just said I’m going to get so active,” replied Ms. Ortiz. “I’m going to help keep his work going on,” she said, “They can’t stop us!” (4)
Ortiz furthered her commitment to the Civil Rights Movement by founding the nonprofit organization, Grass Roots Organization for Women, or GROW in 1975. (4) Ortiz wanted an organization that encouraged women to serve in their communities and in the Movement through peaceful protests, rallies, street marches, and boycotts. “Why did I get that organization formed? I’ll tell you why,” Ortiz said. “Rev. Harvey was that old-time minister that didn’t believe in women in leadership, in those days.” (2) Ortiz went on to say that eventually Rev. Simmie Harvey, president of the Louisiana chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), changed his mind about his anti-feminist sentiments. GROW challenged the traditional patriarchal social systems that prevented women from participating in leadership roles.
Ortiz was a force in the later years of the Civil Rights Movement and led protests in many surrounding areas. In 1976, Ortiz led demonstrations for the family of Stanley Magee who suspiciously passed away while in custody. (5) The protest and subsequent march over Stanley Magee’s death began at the 22nd Judicial Courthouse and included many African American residents of St. Tammany and Washington Parishes. It was one of the largest demonstrations ever held in Covington. Ortiz explained that some of the more difficult and passionate Civil Rights cases, especially those involving racially motivated deaths and violence were passed on to her organization from the NAACP. “It was GROW that did the work,” Ortiz said. (2) Ortiz remains politically active today. Her most recent work is dedicated to taking down monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders in New Orleans.