Lillie Carroll Jackson embraced non-violent resistance in the 1930s
Decades before Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. introduced non-violent resistance to his own generation, Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson introduced it to 1930s Baltimore. Widely regarded as the mother of Maryland’s civil rights movement, she combined youth education, peaceful public demonstrations, voter registration drives and fundraising to support legal cases as tools to fight the blatant discrimination that was common in her hometown.
Mrs. Jackson was a descendent of the first Charles Carroll, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. She was also a granddaughter of an African chief.
As a young soprano in Sharp Street Baptist Church, she learned poise in front of crowds. She later accompanied her husband, Keiffer Albert Jackson, a film promoter, as he travelled for business. She sang during silent pictures.
Later in life, Mrs. Jackson built a profitable career as a real estate owner. At the time, however, African Americans faced daily discrimination throughout Baltimore's shopping districts, restaurants, libraries, buses, schools and neighborhoods.
Her own economic success (despite these obstacles) allowed her time to organize educational forums for young people and to spearhead the local “Buy Where You Can Work” demonstrations, which grew to a nationwide movement.
Carl Murphy, the owner of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, persuaded Mrs. Jackson to take a leadership role in Baltimore’s NAACP Chapter. There were 100 members when she joined in 1935. By 1946, membership totaled 17,000.
When her daughter Juanita was denied entrance to the University of Maryland Law School because of race, her activism took on new momentum. Over the years, Mrs. Jackson’s leadership is credited for many civil rights successes that include:
- A court case that forced the University of Maryland Law School to admit African Americans. Her daughter Juanita Jackson Mitchell was the first African-American woman to practice law in Maryland.
- Building African-American presence on the Baltimore police force by founding a school that prepared potential applicants for the civil service exam. One student, Bishop Robinson, later became the city’s first African-American Police Commissioner.
- A campaign to equalize teacher pay.
- A movement that desegregated Baltimore swimming pools.
Between 1953 and her death in 1975, Mrs. Jackson’s home at 1320 N. Eutaw Place in Bolton Hill was the gathering place for Baltimore’s civil rights activists. Upon her death, she asked that the home become a museum devoted to her life’s causes.
Funding issues stalled the realization of this vision until 2016, when Morgan State University, the property owner, led a complete renovation of the home and installed photographs, recordings and art work that reflect Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson’s dreams of an equal and peaceful Baltimore. Check with the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum for operating hours and details.
Mrs. Jackson is buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. The cemetery was woefully neglected for years and was barely recognizable as a cemetery until Lu Moorman and Preservation Alliance worked to save it. Their efforts are ongoing. The photograph of Mrs. Jackson's grave (at top of page) is courtesy of Ms. Moorman.
Sources & read more:
Who is Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson? Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson Charter School, accessed 2/20/18
Archives of Maryland, Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, MSA SC 3520-13366, accessed 2/20/18
Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum Showcases Baltimore Civil Rights History, by Stephanie Cornish, 6/13/16, Baltimore Afro-American, accessed 2/20/18
Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson Museum, by Sierra Hallmen, Explore Baltimore Heritage, accessed February 23, 2018