Lillie M. Carroll Jackson, an African American civil rights leader, dynamic director of the Maryland NAACP, and activist, was born on May 25, 1889 in Baltimore, Maryland.
She was the seventh of eight children born to Charles Henry and Amanda Bowen Carroll. Her father was Methodist minister Charles Henry Carroll. Lillie Jackson was educated in Baltimore's Colored High School and graduated in 1908. After high school, she taught in the Black school system in Baltimore.
She met her husband, Keiffer Jackson, during this time, while singing soprano in the choir of the Sharp Street Baptist Church, and they were married in 1910. She traveled with him, singing and lecturing, while he showed his films to church groups. After the birth of their first child, Virginia, the Jacksons returned to Baltimore.
Lillie's commitment to fighting segregation began with a medical crisis in 1918. Before emergency surgery for mastoiditis, Lillie prayed to God to spare her life so she might raise her children. In return, she vowed a lifetime of service. After the surgery, the doctor told her that he had removed more decayed bone from her head than he thought possible to survive. Despite the disfigurement of her face by the surgery, Lillie kept her promise. In Baltimore, Lillie gave birth to Juanita, Virginia, and her only son, Bowen Keiffer.
As a successful businesswoman with rental properties, Lillie had the financial independence and time to carry out her commitment to serve. She became the first woman to serve on the board of trustees for the Sharp Street Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. Then she sponsored the City-Wide Young Peoples Forum.Read More
In 1935, she accepted an invitation to revive the local NAACP chapter. She was its president until 1970, building the organization to a peak membership of 17,600. Despite the threat of violence that had kept Jim Crow in place, she brought steady pressure against segregation. Known as "Mother of Freedom," and "that NAACP lady” by her opponents, she ran the Baltimore branch for 35 years, and led the organization in picketing one “Whites-only” theater for six straight years before the management gave in. Her daughter Juanita described her as a "freedom fighter." Whatever the label, Lillie Carroll Jackson was a leader of the civil rights movement in Maryland.
Known as the "mistress of the gavel,” She was unanimously re-elected president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP each year during her tenure. As organizer and president of the Maryland State Conference of NAACP branches, she was elected to the National Board of Directors in 1948. With the support of the churches and the Afro-American newspaper, the branch became one of the largest and strongest in the nation. She traveled the counties of Maryland, organizing branches of the NAACP until there was a network of units across the state. These units united in a vigorous campaign for justice at the state level. Jackson's goal was "To help secure freedom and justice under the law.” The Baltimore branch initiated history-making legal cases that challenged the constitutionality of segregation in education, employment, and public accommodations.
Among other achievements during this time, Jackson helped instigate the legal challenges to Jim Crow in Maryland, and NAACP special counsels brought a suit that desegregated the University of Maryland School of Law. The local NAACP under her presidency got the city to put Black policemen in uniforms for the first time. Public pools, parks, and civil service jobs were opened to Blacks.