Alfred Bernstein, 92, a civil rights, civil liberties and union activist who worked for the National Conference of Christians and Jews for 25 years before retiring in 1985 as vice president for development, died Feb. 28 at his home in Washington after a stroke.
He was a member and official of the United Federal Workers of America from 1937 to 1950. He then served as a fundraiser with the Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for Cancer Research and the Union of Hebrew Congregations before joining the conference.
Mr. Bernstein, a graduate of Columbia University law school in his native New York, came to Washington in 1937 when he became an investigator for the Senate Commerce Committee's inquiry into the railroad industry. The investigation resulted in the breakup of railroad monopolies and in penalties for brokerage houses that had colluded in setting up fake holding companies and deceptive trusts.
It was during his work as an investigator, Mr. Bernstein later said, that he learned first-hand just how poorly government workers, especially blacks in lower-income jobs, were treated. He became an avowed New Dealer, later saying that he was interested in transforming both the political process and society at large.
In 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order No. 9835, the loyalty oath that resulted in what many came to view as widespread abuse of employees' civil rights. In the first year under the order, 4,758 employees were called before departmental loyalty boards to face discipline for the findings in FBI background checks.
Mr. Bernstein was a leading voice attacking these actions. His legal defenses before the boards for scores of employees were largely successful.
In 1949, he testified about these issues before the House Education and Labor Committee, which was investigating a strike by government cafeteria workers. He cited the case of one worker, with 12 years' experience, where "some crackpot accused him of disloyalty, and he never had a chance to meet his accusers, and he never had a chance to defend himself, and he never had specific charges, and he is carrying that stigma around with him for the rest of his life, and he cannot get employment. That is what I have got against this business. That is not American."
Mr. Bernstein was called upon by a Senate subcommittee to defend his own loyalty. He vigorously denied any suggestion of disloyalty to his country because of his political views.
For several years in the early 1950s, he operated a launderette, the Georgia Avenue Bendix Automatic Laundry, at 3218 Georgia Ave. NW.
Before World War II, Mr. Bernstein had lived briefly in San Francisco where he was an investigator with the Office of Price Administration and was active in union work. During the war, he served in the Army in the Pacific.
After the war, in addition to his union work, he became active in civil rights efforts, working to desegregate the District. He helped organize picket lines and sit-ins that would eventually result in the desegregation of the District's lunch counters, restaurants, and D.C. Recreation Department swimming pools and playgrounds as well as Glen Echo amusement park.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, the former Sylvia Walker; a son, Carl Bernstein, the writer, journalist, and former Washington Post investigative reporter who lives in New York; two daughters, Mary Bernstein of Stamford, Conn., and Laura Bernstein of Bluemont; and two grandsons.