Civil rights crusaders

July 08, 1992

With the deaths of Juanita Jackson Mitchell and Leon Sachs, the first prominent in the NAACP, the second a leader in the Jewish community, both conciliators and fighters in the cause of civil rights and non-discrimination, Baltimore has lost two extraordinarily gifted citizens.

Though they came out of different backgrounds and traditions, they found common cause in the great struggles of the 1960s, when legal barriers to citizens on the basis of race or religion started to crumble under the force of a nation striving to live up to its professed ideals.

Mrs. Mitchell was a protester from an early age, the daughter of pioneer activist Lillie M. Jackson and the wife of Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., longtime director of the NAACP's Washington office; Mr. Sachs, a mediator by trade and the first full-time director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, come to the conclusion that confrontation was necessary. So they were allies by chance in some of the demonstrations and court suits that were to change their city forever -- and for the better.

Mrs. Mitchell and Mr. Sachs knew a Baltimore of long ago where blacks were denied the use of public facilities and institutions and Jews were banned from certain neighborhoods and clubs. Their plight brought these two communities together in a spirit scarcely remembered in the antagonisms that were to follow. Now the departure of these pioneers for humanity should inspire persons of all races and creeds to work for the equality and harmony that Mrs. Mitchell and Mr. Sachs personified. Much needs to be done to end discrimination in the workplace and to promote personal understanding across the color line that still divides America. These two Baltimoreans showed the way.

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