By Lisa Mitchell Senaar
In 1935, Dr. Carl J. Murphy (1889-1967), Publisher and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Afro American Newspapers and Board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), recruited Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson (1889-1975) to help revitalize the dormant Baltimore branch of the NAACP. Carl Murphy and Lillie Jackson, who had known each other since grade school, formed a powerful alliance that lasted for almost four decades. Lillie became branch president, helping to position Baltimore to spearhead some of the most consequential civil rights gains in the country. Murphy developed the Afro American Newspapers into “a powerful journalistic champion of civil rights” that chronicled the civil rights revolution of the twentieth century.
Lillie Jackson was a self-described freedom fighter. “She believed that the fight for freedom was a family requirement,” said Senator Clarence M. Mitchell, III (1939-2012). “My grandmother, Lillie May Carroll Jackson was a dynamo! She picked her battles and they might have seemed like small battles, but if you put them all together, it was massive.”
Lisa Mitchell Sennaar (Courtesy Photo)
May 25, 1966 was the occasion of her 77th birthday celebration. Dr. Jackson had been president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP since 1935, a post she held until 1970. Dr. Carl Murphy posed a series of questions to the over 500 guests gathered to celebrate her birthday. To paraphrase, he asked what has been the worth of Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson to Baltimore, Maryland and the country? What has been the value of successful lawsuits to equalize Black teachers’ pay in Maryland? What has it been worth to have Black policemen and firefighters? What was it worth to desegregate Maryland state schools, parks, beaches, and other public accommodations? For her leadership organizing numerous voter registration drives that resulted in tens of thousands of new voters? For leading the Baltimore branch of the NAACP for thirty years and never taking a salary? What has it been worth to you as Black parents to have peace of mind to know that you could call Dr. Jackson these thirty years, when your son or daughter was arrested while protesting for their rights? Dr. Murphy estimated that Dr. Jackson’s worth to Baltimore in 1966 dollars was about $750 Million. He went on to say that “The Lillie Carroll Jackson Corporation is a billion-dollar concern. Baltimore couldn’t get along without her.”
Another grandson of Dr. Jackson, Senator (retired) Michael Bowen Mitchell, Sr., remembered his grandmother telling them to “Love God with all of your heart, mind and soul. Do unto your neighbor as you would have them do unto you. She would say that my children and grandchildren are my claim on eternity. She spoke of her father, Charles Henry Carroll who was born in Howard County in the home of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. She would state that, “I am an American of African descent. I am somebody.” She was particularly proud that her maternal great-great grandfather Bowen was a free African who came to Maryland in 1810. The Bowens bought land in Montgomery County and established a cemetery.
“Ma” Jackson was how she was affectionately known in our community. She left in her will that upon her death, her last home located at 1320 Eutaw Place be made into a civil rights museum to honor Baltimore’s freedom struggle. Lillie Jackson believed eternal vigilance was the price of freedom and that we were soldiers in God’s army.
Dr. Lillie May Jackson and Dr. Carl J. Murphy would be proud to know that their legacies live on. In May 2020, during the historic COVID-19 Pandemic, The Baltimore Branch of the NAACP and the Afro American Newspaper co-hosted live virtual debates with all of the major candidates for both the upcoming Baltimore Mayoral and President of the City Council primary elections. In remembrance of these great ancestors, join the Baltimore branch of the NAACP and become a subscriber to the Afro American Newspaper.
Lisa Mitchell Sennaar’s career includes a decade in television and radio production and broadcast. Her family, the Jackson/Mitchells of Maryland left their imprint on the Civil Rights Revolution of the 20th Century, serving and helping to build local, state and national organizations; also serving at every level of government: the United Nations, House of Representatives, Maryland State Legislature and Baltimore City Council. Lisa works in state government, is married and the mother of two teenagers.