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Ambrose Lane Sr., anti-poverty activist and radio host, dies at 75

Ambrose I. Lane Sr., an anti-poverty activist who became a political and religious commentator as host of the talk show ìWe Ourselvesî on Pacifica Radio's Washington station, WPFW-FM, died Sept. 14 of complications from congestive heart failure at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. He was 75.
Ambrose I. Lane Sr., an anti-poverty activist who became a political and religious commentator as host of the talk show ìWe Ourselvesî on Pacifica Radio's Washington station, WPFW-FM, died Sept. 14 of complications from congestive heart failure at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. He was 75. (Family Photo)

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By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 9:05 PM

Ambrose I. Lane Sr., an anti-poverty activist who became a political and religious commentator as host of the talk show "We Ourselves" on Pacifica Radio's Washington station, WPFW, died Sept. 14 of complications from congestive heart failure at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. He was 75.

Mr. Lane, who had been a mainstay at left-wing WPFW (Channel 89.3) since 1978, used his platform as the host of "We Ourselves" to champion social justice and highlight issues related to poverty and race. He served as a member of the Pacifica National Board, which oversees a network of public radio stations around the country. He also served as Pacifica's interim executive director in 2005 and 2006.

The name of Mr. Lane's radio show came from a program that he had proposed at the 1966 White House Conference on Civil Rights to address social and economic problems among blacks.

At the time, Mr. Lane was head of the anti-poverty Community Action Organization in Buffalo. His "We Ourselves" proposal, read into the Congressional Record by Rep. Thaddeus J. Dulski (D-N.Y.), outlined a program of "sacrifice and self-help" by which urban blacks would form nonprofit corporations to perform many social-work and government functions, pulling themselves out of poverty rather than relying on others.

As a radio host, Mr. Lane was a critic of the political right and of corporate-owned mainstream media. He covered local politics as well as national news, co-anchoring Pacifica Radio's national coverage of the Persian Gulf War and serving as the host of gavel-to-gavel coverage of Senate confirmation hearings on the nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court of David Souter, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas.

He did not shy from provocation to draw attention to the plight of low-income and minority Americans. In 1982, he wrote an essay titled "Where Are Your Responsible White Leaders?" that appeared on the front of The Washington Post's Outlook section.

If white leaders during the turbulent 1960s wondered aloud, "Where are the responsible black leaders?" he wrote, then it was time to ask the reverse question as the nation entered the Reagan era of supply-side economics and government cost-cutting.

"Frankly, blacks are tired of carrying the overwhelmingly disproportionate share of the responsibility for preserving freedom and extending democracy in America," he wrote. "And we are sick and tired of being your favorite scapegoats whenever your irresponsible, greedy leaders rip you off."

Ambrose Inman Lane was born Feb. 12, 1935, in Knoxville, Tenn. He spent several years at Knoxville College, where he met his future wife, Joan King, before graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. He went on to receive a master's degree in social work, also from the University of Pittsburgh.

Besides his wife of 54 years, of Pikesville, survivors include four children, Ingrid Smith of Atlanta, Ambrose Lane Jr. of Columbia, Alycee Lane of Oakland, Calif., and Spencer Lane of Chicago; a brother; a sister; and five grandchildren.

After graduate school, Mr. Lane was employed as a child-welfare worker, counseled ex-convicts and ran for the Pennsylvania legislature, emphasizing the importance of providing housing for poor people displaced by urban renewal.

In the early 1960s, he moved to Buffalo, where he became the founding executive director of the Community Action Organization of Erie County.

He resigned from that job in 1968, saying that Congress had given up its anti-poverty fight. He went on to run unsuccessfully for mayor of Buffalo as an independent, making headlines for his potential to siphon votes from the Democratic incumbent.

Mr. Lane moved to Washington in 1974 to serve as executive director of the National Center for Community Action, a position he held until 1981. He was ordained as a minister in Martin Luther King Jr. Community Church in Columbia, a nondenominational Christian congregation.


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