Community activist Olive Salih dies

Activist and community organizer Olive Salih, formerly of Activist and community organizer Olive Salih, formerly of Huntington, died Nov. 29, 2013 of pancreatic cancer. She was 84. Newsday's obituary for Olive Salih
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Olive Salih, formerly of Huntington, devoted her life to protecting the children of communities where she set down roots: Huntington, East Elmhurst and Miami.

An activist and community organizer, in 1968 she staged a one-woman, 71/2-hour protest at Huntington High School over the use of federal funding that garnered local media coverage.

The Bronx native also formed an early childhood learning program at the Huntington Freedom Center and spearheaded educational and arts enrichment programs for teenagers as well as mothers and domestic workers.

A Huntington resident for 34 years, Salih -- who was known as Olive Irvin Anderson before her conversion to Islam -- died at her daughter's Orlando, Fla., home on Nov. 29 of pancreatic cancer.

She was 84.

"She was an active community volunteer," said Lorelei Anderson-Francis of Orlando, a daughter. "If it had to do with education or the arts, my mother was usually involved in it."

In 1994, she formed the African Family Life Center out of her Huntington home, an organization that co-hosted the Long Island Black Women's Health Resolution Conference in April 1995.

Anderson-Francis said Olive Salih was also a committed activist, serving on the Huntington Community Action Committee and Huntington Township Arts League.

A young mother during the 1960s, she once staged a one-woman sit-in to protest the fact that federal money earmarked for children was being used to create jobs for them as junior janitors.

"I don't think the federal government intended its money to be used to teach youths how to sweep floors," Salih told Newsday in an April 1968 article about her demonstration, which ended when school officials agreed to hear her grievances. "When a Negro is seen sweeping the floors, it perpetuates old stereotypes."

Born Nov. 13, 1929, to a mother who was an African Methodist Episcopal minister and a father who was a construction worker, Salih attended public schools in the Bronx. She graduated from Morris High School in 1944 and enrolled in Manhattan State Hospital on Wards Island to study nursing and dental hygiene.

She took courses in social work at what became Farmingdale State College and Stony Brook University. She later took courses at Maimonides University in Miami after relocating to Florida in 1997.

She married John Joseph Anderson of Harlem and the couple settled in East Elmhurst, where they raised three daughters, first Lorelei, then Alison and Joni.

While in East Elmhurst, Salih served as editor of the PTA newspaper for P.S. 127. A tall woman with strikingly good looks, her daughter said, Salih also worked as a runway model while living in Queens.

In 1963, the young family moved to a home on Park Avenue near Main Street in Huntington, among the first black families to settle in the area, said Anderson-Francis, adding that they moved in though their home was under a racial covenant.

Such agreements were common instruments of segregation on Long Island, barring owners from selling homes to blacks.

While on Long Island, Salih worked for several institutions, including the Huntington Freedom Center, the Nassau County Economic Opportunity Commission, Catholic Charities and the Urban League as well as the Suffolk Chapter of the National Association of Multiple Sclerosis.

She converted from Christianity to Islam while living on Long Island and took the surname "Salih."

Besides Anderson-Francis, Salih is survived by two other daughters, Dr. Alison Tomlinson of Miami and Joni Sorhaindo of Atlanta; a brother, Franklyn Irvin of St. Albans; a sister, Barbara Irvin of the Bronx; five grandchildren, Kaetlyn, Kamraun, Khyle and Kristopher Sorhaindo of Atlanta and James Francis of Minneapolis.

The family requests that donations in Salih's name be made "to the cause of your choice."

A "celebration of life" will be held Dec. 28 in Miami.

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