Leon Shull; Liberal Fought For ADA Causes

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2007

Leon Shull, 93, who spent two decades as national director of Americans for Democratic Action, a prominent liberal advocacy organization, died Aug. 25 at Unitarian Universalist House, a nursing home in Philadelphia. He had congestive heart failure.

In 1950, Mr. Shull joined the ADA in its infancy and spent 13 years as director of the southeastern Pennsylvania chapter before coming to Washington as national director in 1964.

The political group began with support from various New Deal liberals, including former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, labor lawyer Joseph Rauh, economist John Kenneth Galbraith and future vice president Hubert H. Humphrey. The organizers wanted to counter the influence of Henry Wallace's Progressive Party, which they saw as communist-dominated.

The ADA was an early and vocal proponent of civil rights for African Americans, U.S. recognition of Communist China and the expansion of many social programs. It also opposed U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and beat many others in calling for President Richard M. Nixon's impeachment.

Mr. Shull presided over at least one upheaval within the group -- a defection by many labor activists when the ADA initially supported the 1968 presidential candidacy of Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.), best known for his stance against the Vietnam War.

The ADA eventually threw its support to Humphrey, but many liberals came to cite the cleavage as helping elect Nixon, a Republican. Mr. Shull disagreed, saying Humphrey was to blame for belatedly breaking with President Lyndon B. Johnson's approach to the Vietnam War.

Mr. Shull was a persistent critic of the Reagan administration on social policy, and he retired about the time Ronald Reagan was reelected.

"We used to say liberalism was a demanding faith," he told the Associated Press in 1984. "It requires us to take positions that are sometimes uncomfortable in a social sense, sometimes lonely, and it sometimes gets you laughed at. But the tide always changes, doesn't it? The tide never keeps going the same way."

Mr. Shull, the son of Polish Jews, was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 8, 1913. He worked for his father's furniture-making business before serving in an Army engineering battalion in Europe during World War II.

As a young man, he was Pennsylvania chairman of the Socialist Party's youth division. After his military discharge, he briefly headed the Jewish Labor Committee in Philadelphia before joining the ADA and campaigning successfully for reform-minded Democratic politicians in Philadelphia, ending the city's long Republican rule.

After retiring, Mr. Shull remained involved in the ADA as a mentor and worked on the organization's efforts to increase the minimum wage. He did volunteer work for the AFL-CIO's industrial union department. In 1999, he moved to the Philadelphia area from Washington.

Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Anne Wollod Shull, and two daughters, Susan Shull and Jane Shull, all of Philadelphia; and a granddaughter.

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