Sylvia Bernstein, 88, a civil rights and civil liberties activist in her native Washington who also did sales work and was a White House volunteer, died of pancreatic cancer Nov. 23 at her home in Northwest Washington.
Mrs. Bernstein and her husband, Alfred, a union activist, saw themselves as social crusaders. His skill was organizing, and her enthusiasm was for picketing and other forms of protest.
They likened their home, for many years in Silver Spring, to a salon for those of any ages eager to engage in political discussion and action.
Among her causes was helping desegregate District eateries, the Glen Echo amusement park and public swimming pools and playgrounds. Mrs. Bernstein also campaigned on behalf of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Americans executed for espionage in 1953.
The Bernsteins' son, Carl, the former Washington Post investigative reporter, interviewed his mother for his memoir, "Loyalties" (1989), in which Mrs. Bernstein explained her early motivation for social justice: "I was at the Murphy's five-and-dime one day and I saw a Negro woman who was very pregnant and she had another little baby with her. And she had to eat standing up. I never forgot it."
According to "Loyalties," the Bernsteins were Communist Party members in the mid-1940s and endured long persecution by the government for their political beliefs. Mrs. Bernstein invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when asked by congressional panels about her party involvement.
Sylvia Walker Bernstein, the daughter of Russian immigrants, was a graduate of the old Central High School. She attended George Washington University.
In the 1930s, she did secretarial work at the War Department. She reentered the workforce in 1962 as a statistician with Resources for the Future, an economic think tank.
She joined Garfinckels department store on 14th and F streets NW in 1964 and worked in its gift department as a sales consultant until 1989. It was not unusual for a lobbyist or lawyer to approach her with a list of family members, friends or associates and ask her to recommend gifts for them.
During the Clinton administration, she was a White House volunteer and answered the correspondence of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. During the past decade, Mrs. Bernstein did volunteer work at the Phillips Collection.
She also was involved in the Democratic Party in Montgomery County and the movement for home rule in the District. As a member of Women Strike for Peace, she participated in demonstrations against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons.
Her husband of 63 years died in February.
Besides her son, of New York, survivors include two daughters, Mary Bernstein Hunter of Stamford, Conn., and Laura Bernstein of Bluemont, Va.; and two grandsons.