Lillie May Carroll Jackson was born in Baltimore in 1889, just twenty-four years after slavery was abolished. She was born into a society that kept white and black populations separated in the city. This system of separation was known as “Jim Crow.” Jim Crow laws were enacted after the Civil War to ensure racial segregation. As the twentieth century began, churches, restaurants, and employment were rigidly segregated in Baltimore. Blacks and whites were legally and culturally bound to attend separate schools and use separate public spaces such as parks and beaches.
Lillie May Carroll was the seventh of eight children in her family. Her father was Methodist minister Charles Henry Carroll, a descendant of the first Charles Carroll who signed the Declaration of Independence. Her mother Amanda Bowen Carroll ran a boarding room service that Lillie diligently assisted with throughout her childhood.
Lillie Jackson attended Baltimore’s Colored High and Training School (now Coppin State University). After graduating in 1908, she began teaching second grade at the Biddle Street School. Racial discrimination affected students and educators alike in Baltimore's segregated school system.
Dr. Lillie May Carroll Jackson
After two years working as a teacher in Baltimore, she met Keiffer Albert Jackson whom she married soon after in 1910. During their travels throughout the country evangelizing and showing religious films, the couple had three daughters. The couple moved back to Baltimore in concern for their children’s growth and environment.
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. During the surgery, the doctor accidentally cut the mastoid nerve. After the surgery, he informed Lillie that he 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 of service.
In Baltimore Lillie Carroll Jackson began investing in real estate. Her investments allowed her to support her family and advancement. As she became more involved with the civil rights movement, Lillie Jackson's real estate investments gave her peace of mind and financial independence apart from her political activity.
Known to Baltimoreans as the “Mother of Freedom,” she skillfully used picketing and protests as part of a non-violent resistance strategy to eliminate Jim Crow segregation and discrimination laws locally and nationally. Inducted into the Maryland Hall of Fame in 1986, Lillie Carroll Jackson was named, “Marylander of the Century” by the Baltimore Sun in 1999.
Under her leadership, the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) became one of the country's largest branches and won many important legal victories for civil rights. Lillie toiled to end racial violence, discrimination and brutality, and to promote social justice. "God helps those who help themselves," she would say. "If you sit down on God, you'll just sit," she warned. Dr. Lillie M. Carroll Jackson died in 1975. She wanted all people to know the history of the struggle for freedom and equality in the United States and declared that her home should be a civil rights museum.