Mildred Little, who fought pollution, absentee landlords and drug dealers as a community activist in North Hempstead for more than half a century, died in her Westbury home Thursday. She was 88.
The cause was complications after a stroke, said her sons, Keith Little of Uniondale and Kenneth Little of Westbury.
Little's approach was abrupt, direct and tireless, said North Hempstead Councilwoman Viviana Russell, who recalled meeting her shortly after Russell and her husband moved into the community in 1999.
"She grabbed hold of us, said 'You have to get involved. I want to see you at more meetings.' " Years later, when Russell was undecided about running for office, Little's advice was simple: "Are you crazy? You should definitely do it."
Little made sure her neighbors knew whom to contact about housing and parks issues, Russell said, and she knew many town officials personally from her service on the Board of Zoning and Appeals.
Little's causes were as diverse as racial justice and youth Scouting. She worked with groups such as the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Progressive Civic Association, a local community organization. She served on the zoning board in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
"She believed you were obligated to do community work," Keith Little said. "She believed it took a village to raise kids."
Little and her husband, Kenneth Little, moved to New Cassel in the late 1950s. As African-Americans in an era when racial steering was widely practiced on Long Island, they were discouraged from buying in Levittown and Westbury Village.
They settled in New Cassel, where her sons recalled happy childhoods. There she pressed for cleanups outside chemical plants and garbage-transfer stations and clampdowns on illegal, dilapidated apartments. Little's sons said she spent many of her Friday nights marching outside properties she and other activists believed were fronts for drug activity.
Mildred Alma Little was born Feb. 12, 1927, in Toledo, Ohio, to Thomas and Lucille Jay. Little's mother died when her daughter was 8. Little moved to Brooklyn, where she was raised by an aunt.
She graduated from Eastern District High School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the 1940s.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated Tuesday at 9:45 a.m. at St. Brigid's R.C. Church, 50 Post Ave., Westbury, followed by burial at Holy Rood Cemetery, Westbury. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Metropolitan Jewish Hospice Service Foundation at www.MJHSfoundation.org.