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Leon Shull, 93; directed liberal advocacy group

September 01, 2007|Adam Bernstein | Washington Post

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

Shull joined the ADA in 1950, when the organization was in its infancy, and spent 13 years as director of the southeastern Pennsylvania chapter before becoming 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 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 blacks, 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 Nixon's impeachment.

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 anti-Vietnam War stance.

The organization eventually threw its support to Humphrey, but many liberals came to believe that the cleavage helped elect Nixon, a Republican.

Shull disagreed, saying Humphrey was to blame for belatedly breaking with President Johnson's approach to the Vietnam War.

Shull was a persistent critic of the Reagan administration on social policy, and he retired around the time that President Reagan was reelected to a second term.

"We used to say liberalism was a demanding faith," Shull 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."

Shull, the son of Polish Jews, was born Nov. 8, 1913, in Philadelphia.

He worked for his father's furniture-making business before serving in an Army engineering battalion in Europe during World War II.

He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Anne Wollod Shull, and two daughters, Jane Shull and Susan Shull, all of Philadelphia; and a granddaughter.

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