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Jane Dwin Reed, 87, widow of civil rights activist, dies

Jane Dwin Reed, who was married for 58

Jane Dwin Reed, who was married for 58 years to civil rights pioneer Eugene Reed, died of cancer Dec. 17, 2009, at her Amityville home. She was 87. This photo was taken last year of Jane Reed and her great grandchild, Mylee Symone Small, who was born in March. Newsday's obituary for Jane Dwin Reed
Photo Credit: Handout

She grew up in segregated Tennessee, was split from her parents when the Great Depression forced her family to move to seek work, married a fiery civil rights activist and shielded her children from the threat of violence his activism brought their family growing up on Long Island.

Jane Dwin Reed, who was married for 58 years to civil rights pioneer Dr. Eugene Reed, died of cancer Dec. 17 at her Amityville home. She was 87.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Slinger-Hasgill Funeral Home, 155 Sunrise Hwy., Amityville.

The activities of her husband, who during the 1950s and 1960s battled housing segregation here and faced shotgun-toting opponents during trips to Mississippi to participate in civil rights actions there, made the Reed family a target of racial threats from fellow Long Islanders.

Crosses were burned on the Amityville lawn of her husband's dental practice. His leadership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which he criticized for not being radical enough, brought threatening phone calls from anonymous individuals uttering racial slurs.

Her children say Reed, who was a stay-at-home mom, was quietly reassuring.

"She was very frightened because she grew up in the South and knew how mean racists could be," said her youngest child, Dorothy Reed, of Amityville. "But she battled for us."

A petite, soft-spoken woman who grew roses, Reed was born in Morristown, Tenn. Her mother commuted by horseback to teach at a segregated one-room schoolhouse; her father variously worked as a restaurateur and a barber.

When economic collapse forced her parents to find work in the homes of wealthy families in Hartford, Conn., Reed stayed with friends and relatives living there, often seeing her parents only on Sundays.

But she excelled in school, where she also played tennis and violin before graduating from high school in 1940, and enrolling at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she hoped to become a librarian.

She met Eugene Reed, a student from Glen Cove, and the two were married in 1944. They began a family while her husband completed a degree in dentistry. After living briefly in Munich, Germany, where Eugene Reed served as an Army dentist, they moved to Amityville.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a daughter Tobi Connors, of Oakland, Calif. and son Eugene Reed, Jr., of Washington, D.C. Her husband died in 2002.

She had a private burial Dec. 23 at her husband's plot at Calverton National Cemetery, in Calverton.

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