Lillie Carroll Jackson, mother of a movement Mitchell matriarch: Through NAACP, she helped secure civil rights in Maryland.

Marylanders Of The Century

August 21, 1999

WHEN two Maryland colleges refused to admit Lillie Carroll Jackson's two oldest daughters because of their race, she packed them off to schools in New York and Pennsylvania.

For her it was just another in a series of slights and insults she had to endure as an African-American living under Jim Crow segregation rules. But she didn't take her plight sitting down: Instead, the former school teacher organized black Baltimoreans to protest everything from Eastern Shore lynchings to the discriminatory practices of local retailers. Eventually, whites joined her protests, too.

Many people credit her tireless work as president of the Baltimore and Maryland branches of the NAACP as helping to establish a model of activism for the modern civil rights movement, which has resulted in today's burgeoning black middle class.

FOR THE RECORD - A Saturday editorial should have identified George Armwood as the victim of a 1933 Eastern Shore lynching. The Sun regrets the error.

It's somehow fitting that Jackson, as a descendant of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, would confront an unjust government, asking it to fulfill its creed that all men are created equal.

Galvanized by the 1933 Eastern Shore lynching of a black man, Jackson joined George Armwood and Afro-American Editor Carl Murphy in organizing a series of successful protests to help put an end to such lawlessness. The demonstrations evolved into a campaign for economic and social justice, including the "Buy Where You Can Work" boycott against white merchants.

Three days after that protest began, an A&P grocery store in Northwest Baltimore negotiated a settlement that included hiring black employees. Word of this success spread around the nation, prompting similar boycotts in other cities.

Jackson was a spitfire of a woman who had known much adversity in her life. A botched surgery to repair damaged nerve tissue while she was in her 20s left her face contorted. Yet her shrill voice that demanded attention. She was known for marathon telephone calls.

The late Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor Theodore R. McKeldin, eager to avoid a Jackson call, is said to have once told an assistant who was on the telephone with the assertive civil rights leader, "I'd rather the devil got after me than Mrs. Jackson. Give her what she wants."

In his autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, author Juan Williams wrote that as a young pro bono lawyer for the Baltimore NAACP, Marshall would often lay the tele- phone receiver on his desk while Lillie Jackson dictated strategy. He would occasionally say a word or two to let her know he hadn't hung up.

But her persistance paid off. She prompted many elected officials to act. Jackson and others helped Marshall develop legal strategies that he eventually took to the national stage.

Jackson was president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP an astounding 35 years, from 1935 to 1970. She took it from a handful of members to its peak of more than 18,000 in 1946. She served in the same capacity with the NAACP's state branch for 20 years after its founding in 1942. She died in 1975 at age 86.

She was matriarch of the politically active Mitchell clan that has included her son-in-law, the late Clarence Mitchell Jr., who was so influential as the chief NAACP Washington lobbyist that he was known as "the 51st senator"; her daughter (and Clarence Mitchell's wife), the late Juanita Jackson Mitchell, a lawyer who led the battle for civil rights in the NAACP and in state and local courts; her brother-in-law, retired U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have held elective office.

The successful struggle for civil rights in Maryland was a defining achievement of this century. Lillie Carroll Jackson was a key general in that battle.

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