Marvin Baumstein, 81, political activist for Democratic and civil rights causes

April 25, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Marvin I. Baumstein, a Baltimore political activist who backed civil rights, peace and progressive causes, died Tuesday of cancer complications at Sinai Hospital. He was 81 and lived in the Cross Country neighborhood.

Mr. Baumstein, who ran a printing business, was a veteran of liberal and progressive political campaigns. He was also a foe of U.S. foreign policy in the Vietnam War era.

"I marched when I was 11 months old against Joseph McCarthy's committee," said his son, Jay H. Baumstein of Berne, N.Y. "When I was 12 years old, we got on buses at the Jewish Community Center to go to Washington to hear Martin Luther King."

Born in Hartford, Conn., into a family of political activists -- his stepfather was a union organizer in the Pennsylvania coal country -- Mr. Baumstein joined the Army Corps of Engineers as a young man.

He served in the Army during World War II and made numerous flights in C-47 aircraft between India and China, flying over the Himalayas and Burma. In the 1990s, he wrote of those experiences in an unpublished manuscript.

In 1946, he opened Multi-Service Associates, a printing business that had an offset press. He printed political materials from a Gay Street shop in downtown Baltimore. He later moved the business to Mondawmin and retired in 1985.

"His political work was the key to his business," his son said, adding that Mr. Baumstein produced campaign pamphlets, leaflets and fliers. His local political activism began in the 1948 election campaign, when he worked for the Progressive Party and its presidential candidate, Henry A. Wallace.

He was a member of the old Dolfield Democratic Club in Northwest Baltimore and worked to elect black candidates from that part of the city.

"He was instrumental in Parren Mitchell's first victorious campaign," said Joseph W. Sachs, a friend who was also a member of Baltimore political clubs. "He was also a backer of [John] Kennedy and George McGovern and wasn't above doing door-to-door work for the clubs."

After the 1968 Democratic national convention in Chicago, he and others broke from the old political clubs to form the New Democratic Coalition.

"He had a marvelous wry sense of humor," said Milton Bates, a Baltimore writer and friend. "When he undertook to do something, he would get it done -- thoroughly and meticulous."

Mr. Baumstein married Beulah Fried in 1940. A longtime volunteer with the American Jewish Congress, she died in 1994.

He was a lifetime member of the Jewish Community Center and on evenings and weekends often jogged along Park Heights Avenue with a men's group based there.

A memorial service was conducted yesterday at the Stony Run Friends Meeting.

He is also survived by a daughter, Carol L. Baumstein of Newton, Mass.; a sister, Eleanor B. Kaplan of Clermont, Fla.; friend Esther Rosenthal of Baltimore; and five grandchildren.

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