Lincoln Lynch, former Long Island chair of the Congress of...

Lincoln Lynch, former Long Island chair of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), during an interview in his home in NYC. (May 11, 1998) Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

In the fall of 1962, as America's gaze turned south to black student James Meredith's struggle to attend the all-white University of Mississippi, a similar struggle simmered in Long Island's Malverne school district.

Confronted by rules that prevented his children from attending the district's mostly white elementary school, Lincoln Lynch pursued a lawsuit to end the district's de facto racial separation.

Lynch, who died Saturday at 91, lost his court challenge on a legal ruling. But the loss only seemed to spur him to become one of Long Island's most ardent and audacious civil rights activists.

During the next several years, he led the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, rebuking white Long Islanders for racial bias that restricted blacks to declining neighborhoods, failing schools and marginal jobs. The World War II veteran also derided black residents for accepting second-class status in pursuit of middle-class trappings.

"All over Nassau," he said in a 1963 speech in Garden City, "there exists shameless evidence of undisguised discrimination."

His wife, Edwina Meyers, said her husband's experience fighting overseas and then facing segregation upon immigrating to the United States spurred his activism. "Lincoln was among those people who were passionate about the inequities and injustices that they saw," she said. "As a veteran of World War II, you fight a war and then return and begin to see things differently. I think that fueled his passion."

Lynch, who died of stomach cancer at Manhattan's St. Luke's- Roosevelt Hospital Center, was born in the West Indies. He was one of a small group of Jamaicans who enlisted with England's Royal Air Force and flew World War II missions over Europe as a machine-gunner.

He came to America after the war and eventually settled on Long Island to start a family with his first wife, Cynthia Neita. That marriage ended in divorce.

With CORE, Lynch employed protest methods that were more in-your-face than those of the more reserved National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He sent "testers" to see if real estate agents were steering blacks away from desirable neighborhoods, then assembled vocal protesters at their door. "CORE was very militant, no-nonsense, and Lincoln epitomized that," said Mel Jackson, who replaced Lynch as chairman of Long Island CORE.

Some politicians, business leaders and homeowners viewed his picketing and sit-ins as a threat, according to news reports at the time.

A Newsday editorial urged Lynch -- unsuccessfully -- to embrace gradual change.

"Before Lincoln, things were pretty quiet," Thomas A. Johnson, who was hired as Newsday's first black reporter a few months after Lynch's 1963 speech, said in 1998. "He brought things to the foreground."

Lynch eventually became a vice president with the New York Urban Coalition and taught community activism at Stony Brook University. In 1999, when he was almost 79, he was one of more than 1,000 people arrested near police headquarters in Manhattan for protesting the police killing of unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Nov. 12 at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Harlem.

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