Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman is sitting in a rocking chair on a farmhouse porch in the hills of rural east Tennessee. She’s granting a rare interview on the farm she bought 25 years ago to use as a retreat to train a new generation of activists.

“Everybody needs beauty,” she says, looking out on the verdant landscape. A creek meanders through the 150-acre property, once owned by Roots author Alex Haley, in Clinton. There are porch-wrapped farmhouses, an apple orchard, a fishing pond and two structures designed by architect Maya Lin — the cantilever barn library and a chapel in the shape of an ark.

“It’s a metaphor for hope,” Edelman says.

Haley Farm harks back to the Highlander Folk School, where leaders of the civil rights movement trained in the 1950s.

Edelman says it’s home to a new social justice movement — “a modern movement that goes beyond the civil rights movement that ends poverty.”

“Can we be an inclusive country with all of our diverse people? There should not be any poor children in America,” she says.

Edelman worked with Martin Luther King Jr. on the Poor People’s Campaign before founding the Children’s Defense Fund. In the past 45 years, the organization has pushed child-focused policy, including Head Start and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Now, on Haley Farm, the focus is on movement building. […]