Leon Sachs: A Peacemaker

July 08, 1992

Leon Sachs, who died at 85 over the weekend, was a peacemaker. Over several decades, he mediated disputes big and small. He fought racial and religious discrimination. He served as an arbitrator in difficult disagreements.

"I've always had a passionate interest in the appropriate mechanism in a democratically organized, civilized society that will resolve dispute peacably," he once explained. "I've always been interested in the amicable settlement of disputes or reducing tensions that will promote disputes."

Mr. Sachs had been an instructor at the Johns Hopkins University, his alma mater, and a frequent contributor to newspapers, when, at the onset of World War II, he was tapped to become the first full-time director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. This was the start of his life-long career in the seemingly irreconcilable areas of mediating and advocacy, both of which he mastered so well.

Mr. Sachs' 34-year tenure at the Baltimore Jewish Council covered a period of rapid, head-spinning social change. As a spokesman for the Jewish community, which was fast becoming more affluent and better educated, he attacked rules that made xTC it impossible for Jews and blacks to live in such prestigious areas as Roland Park, Guilford and Homeland. He also condemned discrimination that kept employees from being promoted beyond a certain point because of their race or religion.

By the time the civil rights struggles started, Mr. Sachs was a veteran of campaigns to promote cooperation among different races and religions. His strategic thinking developed as it was tested. In 1961, for example, he still felt that demonstrations would only harm legislative efforts to desegregate Maryland restaurants; by the following spring, he had changed his mind and was among leaders calling for boycotts of Jim Crow restaurants.

During the next decade, Mr. Sachs was visible as a mediator in tough confrontations such as a bitter duel between two city teachers' unions and the 1972 Baltimore Symphony Orchestra strike. On the latter dispute, he laid out the choices for the community in the following words: "The people of Baltimore have to make a decision as to whether they want a first- or second-class orchestra. If they want a first-rate orchestra, they will have to pay for it. That's the issue."

Direct but diplomatic -- that was Leon Sachs. Baltimoreans gratefully remember his work.

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