She worked to improve the participation of women of color as a program director at the National Organization for Women and is credited, along with 11 others, as having coined the term “reproductive justice” — a combination of “reproductive rights” and “social justice” in response to what they believed was missing from Bill Clinton’s 1994 health care reform plan.
Later, as the program and research director for the Center for Democratic Renewal, which monitored hate groups, she found herself on a mountaintop in rural Tennessee, teaching antiracism to women whose families were members of the Ku Klux Klan.
She thought of what her organization’s founder, the Rev. C.T. Vivian — who had been Martin Luther King’s field general — told her when she started her job: “When you ask people to give up hate, you have to be there for them when they do.”
And so she was.
In the early 1990s, Professor Ross accompanied Floyd Cochran, once the national spokesman for the Aryan Nations, on a national atonement tour.
“Here’s a guy who had never done anything but be a Nazi since he was 14 years old, and now he was 35 with no job, no education, no hope. And we helped people like them,” she said. After The Los Angeles Times wrote an article about their unlikely friendship, in 1997, Professor Ross and Mr. Cochran were each paid $10,000 for a Hollywood adaptation option of their story. But when the script came back, there was a fatal flaw: It ended with the two falling in love.
“Floyd was married, and I don’t fall in love with Nazis,” Professor Ross said.
Sometime in those years, Professor Ross found herself on a street corner in Janesville, Wis., in the dead of winter, watching as Ken Peterson — a defector from the K.K.K. — filmed an interview with “The Geraldo Rivera Show.” Mr. Peterson and his wife, Carol, had to flee their home quickly, and Ms. Peterson was shivering in the cold.