Source:  Baltimore City Paper Online (

            Charmed Life:  Mother Figure

                   By Tom Chalkley

                   A bronze plaque identifies 1320 Eutaw Place as the Lillie Carroll Jackson
                   Museum, but dusty blinds on the front door communicate that the building has
                   been closed for years. Locked and lightless, the stately rowhouse provides an
                   appropriate symbol for Jackson's memory, which has itself gathered dust since
                   her death 25 years ago.

                   In the 1930s, this Baltimore-born crusader, known to her contemporaries as
                   "Dr. Lillie" and "Ma Jackson," pioneered the nonviolent tactics that would bring an
                   end to legal racial segregation decades later. "Without a doubt," says Louis
                   Fields, executive director of the Baltimore African American Tourism Council,
                   Jackson was "the mother of the civil-rights movement. She did her work
                   at a time when Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King hadn't even been heard of."

                   "Mother," in Jackson's case, is more than an honorific. She was, literally, the
                   matriarch of Baltimore's black leadership. Her daughter and fellow activist,
                   Juanita Jackson Mitchell, became the lead counsel for the Baltimore chapter of
                   National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP);
                   Jackson's son-in-law, Clarence Mitchell Sr., served as the NAACP's chief
                   national lobbyist; her descendants include state Sen. Clarence Mitchell IV and
                   Baltimore City Council member Keiffer Mitchell. In her own right, Lillie Carroll
                   Jackson presided over the NAACP's Baltimore chapter from 1935 to 1970,
                   building it from a dispirited handful of members into the largest chapter in the

                   Jackson's greatest achievement, however, was leading a series of legal,
                   legislative, and grass-roots campaigns that dismantled Maryland's system of
                   racial segregation and provided models that would be replicated throughout the
                   United States. In 1931, she and her daughter Juanita--who was then 18 years of
                   age--organized a street-level campaign under the slogan "Buy Where You Can
                   Work," persuading black Baltimoreans to boycott businesses with racist
                   employment policies. In 1942, she began a massive drive to register black voters.
                   Many of her successes came through her personal powers of persuasion--and
                   tireless nagging. Maryland Gov. Theodore McKeldin famously said, "I'd rather
                   have the devil after me than Mrs. Jackson. Give her what she wants."

                   The biggest victories came about through the Baltimore NAACP's legal pressure:
                   equalization of pay for white and black teachers in public schools (1938); the end
                   of whites-only admissions at the University of Maryland School of Law (1953);
                   the passage of Baltimore's Fair Employment Practices law (1958); and
                   desegregation of facilities ranging from city golf courses and swimming pools to
                   state parks and public schools. The latter victories were spearheaded by Juanita
                   Mitchell--under her mother's supervision.

                   Born in Baltimore on May 25, 1889, Lillie Carroll grew up in a proud family that
                   traced its lineage to a free African-born man who settled in Maryland, John
                   Bowen, and to Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of
                   Independence. In 1908, she married Keiffer Jackson, a Methodist evangelist who
                   toured the country showing religious and educational movies. Lillie Jackson's
                   brand of social agitation grew directly from her religious philosophy,
                   foreshadowing the nonviolent practices of Martin Luther King Jr. She taught her
                   children "not to hate," Jackson told the Evening Sun in 1969. But, she added, "it
                   does not mean that because we do not hate that we do not fight."

                   Jackson's aphorisms warrant their own page in Bartlett's. "Freedom isn't free,"
                   was a favorite saying; another went, "God opened my mouth and no man can
                   shut it." Anticipating Jesse Jackson, she routinely exhorted followers to "be

                   In her will, Lillie Jackson called for her Eutaw Place home, where she lived for
                   22 years, to become a civil-rights museum; the bronze plaque on the building was
                   cast two years before her death. Consisting mainly of framed memorabilia and
                   household furnishings as the Jacksons had left them, the museum opened in 1976
                   and enjoyed a modest but steady stream of visitors up to the middle of 1990. By
                   then, the house had deteriorated to the point where maintenance was

                   In 1997, the house was placed in the care of Morgan State University. According
                   to Gabriel Tenabe, director of Morgan's James Lewis Museum, plans have been
                   drawn for renovations and for the installation of an elevator, but the project is
                   stalled for lack of funds. Donations to the Morgan State Foundation, Tenabe
                   says, can help the university win matching money offered by the state of
                   Maryland some years ago. In the meantime, the paint peels and the dust gathers;
                   much archival material has been removed from the house for safe storage.

                   In view of race relations and the overall state of black Americans, it might be said
                   that "Ma" Jackson's legacy is as badly off as the house on Eutaw Place. The
                   edifice--the laws and policies she helped establish--still stands, but it needs a lot
                   of work.
                                                          © 2000 Baltimore City Paper