Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson

Civil rights leader Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson (Sun file photo / February 13, 2014)

Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson
May 25, 1889 - July 5, 1975

Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson was born in Baltimore on May 25, 1889, the seventh of eight children. Her father, Charles Carroll, was a descendent of the first Charles Carroll, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Jackson's mother, Amanda Bowen Carroll, was the granddaughter of an African chief. Jackson attended schools in Baltimore and graduated in 1909 from the Colored High School and Normal School. After graduating, she taught second grade at the old Biddle Street School. In 1910, she married Keiffer A. Jackson.

Jackson became concerned about discrimination against blacks after two of her children were refused admission to local colleges. One daughter, Virginia, wanted to be an artist, but was not admitted to the Maryland Institute because of her race. The other daughter, Juanita, was denied admission to the University of Maryland. Both women were accepted in schools out of state.

Her children's failure to be accepted by local schools prompted Jackson to become active in the cause of racial equality. She first helped support a youth movement protesting job discrimination. In 1935, she was asked to become president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, which began her nearly 35-year tenure. Jackson infused new life into the organization, greatly increasing its membership.

Jackson and the NAACP helped win a Court of Appeals decision allowing the admission of blacks to the University of Maryland. She also helped put blacks on the police force, desegregate swimming pool and equalize the salaries of black and white teachers in Maryland. Jackson supported one of the earliest court cases involving segregation in the public schools.

The civil rights leader headed the state NAACP from its founding in 1942 until her retirement in 1962. She was named to the state's first Interracial Commission in 1942. Jackson was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1958 from Morgan State College for her efforts in civil rights.

Jackson held voting-registration drives, greatly increasing the role of blacks in the political process. 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."

When Jackson was a young girl, she recieved this piece of advice from her mother: "If you want to be somebody, it's not the color of your skin that matters ... if you love God, and love man, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you, then you'll be somebody...."

"A long time ago, I decided that everyone should be equal," she once told an interviewer. "But I worked within the bounds of the Constitution, for we are Americans."

--Paul McCardell