James L. Caskey Jr., 54, community activist

September 28, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

James L. Caskey Jr., a respected Southwest Baltimore community activist, died of complications of lymphoma Saturday at his Hamilton home. He was 54.

At the time of his death, he was president of COIL -- Communities Organized to Improve Life -- of which he was a founder in 1973. The group is located near Hollins Market.

He was also a division chief of the state AIDS Administration and headed the AIDS prevention effort for the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Long associated with community groups in Pigtown, Hollins Street, Washington Village and Shipley Hill, Mr. Caskey was a persistent voice who fought for an old and largely poor section of the city.

He played a role in the creation of Southwest Baltimore community agencies, including the Learning Bank, an adult literacy program; Southwest Senior Center; Washington Village Health Center; and You Are Not Alone, which provides prostitutes with clean clothes and showers when they had been abused by their clients or pimps.

"He was a leader and a doer," said Kimberly Lane, executive director of the Washington Village-Pigtown Planning Council of which Mr. Caskey was a founder and treasurer. "He had a vision that he could implement through a strategy."

In 1968, Mr. Caskey helped organize the South Baltimore Federal Credit Union on Washington Boulevard to help residents save money and buy homes.

He joined the Maryland Alliance for Responsible Investment and sat on the board of the Maryland Center for Community Development.

In 1993, he was given the Annie Vamper Award by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.

Mr. Caskey loved the history of Southwest Baltimore, where many people had been employed at the Mount Clare shops of Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

"He loved the smell of coal smoke and wanted nothing more than to have live steam engines working here," said John Ott, executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum, where Mr. Caskey was a board member and chairman of its education committee. "He was the consummate salesman for the museum."

With other volunteers, Mr. Caskey formed the Boyd-Booth Task Force to deal with youth drug problems in Southwest Baltimore.

Born in Baltimore, he was a graduate of Loyola High School and Loyola College, where he received a degree in history in 1967.

He was a parochial school teacher for a year before he joined the Army and served in Korea. He then joined the Baltimore City Department of Social Services as a caseworker and community organizer. He later joined the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where he was employed at the time of his death.

Since 1994, he was president of Dignity Baltimore, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual Roman Catholics, their families and friends. Last year, he was awarded the group's Don Miller Award for Community Service.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, Mount Royal and Lafayette avenues.

He is survived by his mother, Delia Hackett Caskey of Hamilton; two sisters, Patricia A. Peacock of Parkville and Margaret Kaplan of Laurel; two nephews; and a niece.

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