Remembering an unsung civil rights hero

August 27, 2011

I was saddened to learn of the death of John Burleigh ("Civil rights activist helped organize demonstration at Gwynn Oak Park, was active in CORE," July 20). He was an unsung hero of the civil rights struggle. The purpose of this letter is to fill in some of the gaps in his obituary.

I first met John in the early 1960s when he organized a demonstration that took place in front of the Social Security headquarters to protest the agency's racially discriminatory hiring and promotion practices. The demonstration resulted in positive and constructive changes in the agency's practices and policies.

As pointed out in his obituary, John was head of the Congress of Racial Equality's employment committee. In that capacity, John successfully led the fight to desegregate the banks. In addition, after being contacted by black employees of Baltimore's Department of Public Works protesting horrible antebellum conditions, CORE arranged a meeting with the workers and heads of the Department. Following that stormy meeting, the workers' complaints were rectified. And perhaps most significantly, and against all odds, after a long and bitter fight led by John and Lee Douglas, a leader of the Bethlehem black steel workers, Bethlehem Steel was desegregated.

In short, John was a man of great and unfailing dignity, intelligence, integrity and courage, who made the world a better place. I will miss him.

Lawrence J. Ageloff, Towson

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