Slain civil rights activist mourned by civic leaders Marguerite Campbell died at her home

husband is charged

November 10, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Marguerite J. Campbell was so well-known for fighting for schools, recreation programs and housing issues in Southwest Baltimore that she was viewed as the fourth council member from the 6th District.

Despite poor health in recent years, she continued to press for civil rights and other community issues from the living room of her rowhouse on South Abington Avenue.

Mrs. Campbell, 79, died Tuesday at her home in the South Hilton area. A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11:30 a.m. today at St. Joseph's Passionist Monastery Church, Old Frederick Road and Monastery Avenue.

Her husband of 50 years, William Campbell, 82, was charged with first-degree murder in her death after an autopsy revealed that a catheter in her neck had been severed.

Police spokesman Samuel J. Ringgold Jr. said investigators were looking at the possibility that Mrs. Campbell's death was a mercy killing. He said Mr. Campbell was released on his own recognizance Wednesday, and he returned home. He declined to comment.

Called "Daisy Bates" by family and friends after the notable Little Rock, Ark., civil rights activist, Mrs. Campbell led the struggle as a Social Security Administration employee in Woodlawn fighting for equal opportunities for blacks.

Mrs. Campbell walked the streets of Baltimore during the 1968 riots after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., calming citizens. She was an aide and community liaison to Mayors Thomas J. D'Alesandro III and William Donald Schaefer, and took part in anti-poverty programs.

Known for her empathy for the poor and being an outspoken and aggressive advocate for her 6th District neighbors, she dressed for battle in her trademark hat and gloves.

Mrs. Campbell founded the Carroll Improvement Association. She was the first treasurer of the Baltimore City Fuel Fund, and at her death was co-chairwoman of the Edmondson/Frederick Coalition and president of the Committee for the Preservation of Orchard Street Church.

She had received numerous citations and awards for her work, including the Lane Bryant National Award for excellence in community service presented in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy.

A few years ago, she led area residents in stopping the city from closing, for budgetary reasons, the Hilton Recreation Center in Southwest Baltimore.

Mr. Schaefer lives on Edgewood Street a few blocks from Mrs. Campbell's home, and has been associated with her since his days on the City Council. "This is unbelievable news," he said. "It just takes me back."

Mr. Schaefer said her door was always open and she invited neighbors in for parties to learn of their concerns and problems.

He described her as a "very determined person who was always interested in the general improvement of the neighborhood. If you needed help she was always there," he said.

Said Joseph J. DiBlasi, 6th District councilman: "She was always called the unofficial fourth council member from the 6th District, and we relied on her savvy and advice on all matters."

"I always admired her gracious and outgoing manner, and our loss is heaven's gain," Mr. DiBlasi said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that Mrs. Campbell was "truly one of Baltimore's great unsung heroines."

Said Mr. D'Alesandro: "I brought her into the political process when we appointed her community relations specialist in 1968, and that continued under Mayor Schaefer.

"She was a sobering and solid voice during the era of confrontation with civil rights. She was a graceful and stabilizing force that inspired confidence in both sides. She was aggressive, but in a very diplomatic way," he said.

Victorine Q. Adams, a former City Council member, said, "I always admired her because she fought for the underdog. She saved schools and recreation programs, fought traffic, was interested in welfare programs and got people to register and vote, and the people just loved her for it.

"We have lost a gallant warrior and grand, grand lady," she said.

Said Del. Margaret H. Murphy, a Democratic from the 41st District: "People called her day or night with their problems. She wanted her community to be a nice place for people to live in and for children to grow up."

The former Marguerite Jones was born and raised on Division Street in West Baltimore, and graduated in 1933 from Frederick Douglass High School and then from Cortez Peters Business School. She also studied at Coppin State College and Northeastern University.

In 1943 she joined the SSA, where she was an administrative secretary and helped establish Local 1923 of the American Federation of Employees. She retired from the agency in 1979.

"She came from a family of fighters," said a daughter, Marie C. Henderson of Randallstown, who spent her childhood going with her mother to National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, political and neighborhood meetings.

"She used to say, 'You can't get anything accomplished by being negative and banging your fist -- you have to get involved in the process,' and that's what she did," said Mrs. Henderson, an events management consultant and former political consultant.

Facing declining health in recent years, Mrs. Campbell refused to let an amputation and mastectomy stop her.

"Sickness didn't stop her. Nothing stopped this lady. She even operated out of her hospital bed," said 6th District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes.

"Hopefully, you leave behind a little good. She gave and never took -- that was her true spirit," said Mrs. Henderson.

Also surviving are a son, James H. Wilson Jr. of Ellicott City; another daughter, Shirley Jewett of Woodlawn; two sisters, Florine Goodman and Cecelia V. Jones, both of West Baltimore; five grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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