Stanley L. Askin, war hero, early activist for civil rights

December 09, 1993|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Staff Writer

Stanley L. Askin, a World War II hero who led one of the nation's first civil rights protests -- in Baltimore's Druid Hill Park in 1948 -- died Nov. 5 of cancer at the Wadsworth Division of the Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 72.

On a July Sunday in 1948, members of the all-black Baltimore Tennis Club met with the Young Progressives of Maryland to play on the courts in Druid Hill Park. Mr. Askin was state director of the Young Progressives political party.

Blacks were banned from playing tennis or golf or swimming in Baltimore parks, and when Capt. Gordon Gaeng of the Park Police asked the protesters to leave and they refused, he called city police.

Twenty-four protesters, including Mr. Askin, were bodily carried from the tennis courts after sitting down when they defied police. Eight protesters -- Mr. Askin, four blacks and three whites -- were charged with disobeying the lawful order of a policeman.

"The organization refused to recognize any color line," Mr. Askin said at the time, "and would not yield under any circumstances rights guaranteed by the Constitution."

"Discrimination against the Negro people," he said, "means discrimination against Jews, Catholics and all minorities. Segregation is a policy used to divide people and results in inferior living conditions and recreational facilities for all."

The protesters were convicted of rioting and conspiracy to disturb the peace. Their convictions were upheld by state appeals courts, and the Supreme Court refused

to hear their case.

Born and reared in Northwest Baltimore, Mr. Askin attended public schools. He graduated from City College in 1938 and enlisted in the Army in 1941.

As a first lieutenant in the 5th Ranger Battalion, he led a platoon that landed on the Normandy beachhead on D-Day. He was twice wounded in action and was decorated with the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

After the war, he was active in anti-war causes and opposed U.S. foreign policy and the Cold War. He resigned his commission as a captain in the Army Reserve and went to work in the Midwest as a regional organizer for World Re

public, a nonprofit organization that advocated world government as the best way to avoid wars.

After studying at the Dramatic Workshop in New York, he wrote radio scripts for Broadcast Music Inc. until he was blacklisted for his political activities in 1951 during the McCarthy era. He never again worked regularly but did some script-writing jobs and sold insurance. He moved from New York to Los Angeles in 1970.

"He was so idealistic that he refused to take veterans benefits until at the end of his life he absolutely needed them," remembered Milton Bates, a boyhood friend and writer who lives in Canton. "He didn't believe in being paid for his patriotism, and it was a special irony that his loyalty was questioned. He deserved better, and I suppose he was simply a casualty of the McCarthy period."

"The blacklisting impacted his life so extraordinarily and it held him back from developing his life," said Frank Askin, a brother who lives in West Orange, N.J., and is a professor of law at Rutgers University Law School in Newark and a general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Askin was active in the U.S. Ranger Battalions Association and was its first president. He was twice married and divorced.

He will be interred with full military honors at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery. A memorial service was held in Los Angeles Nov. 12.

Survivors include three sons, Bob Askin of Los Angeles and Frank and Tony Askin of New York; and another brother, Murray Askin of Baltimore.

Memorial donations may be made to Valley Inter-Faith Council Nutrition Program, 6514 Sylmar Ave., Van Nuys, Calif. 91410.

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