Beverly Axelrod -- Attorney to Black Panthers

by Kathleen Sullivan, Chronicle Staff Writer


Friday, June 21, 2002

Beverly Axelrod, a civil rights attorney who represented Black Panthers, Native Americans and other activists of the 1960s and '70s, died Wednesday of emphysema in her Pacifica home. She was 78.

Mrs. Axelrod, who earned her law degree at Brooklyn Law School, made civil rights and social justice her life's work as a lawyer. Her most famous client was the late Eldridge Cleaver, the fiery leader of the Black Panthers.

Her client list also included Dennis Banks, a leader of the American Indian Movement, and Yippie Jerry Rubin, the late co-founder of the Youth International Party (YIP) who was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1966.

In 1963, Mrs. Axelrod served as the volunteer lawyer for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which organized a voter registration drive for African Americans in Louisiana. During the drive, volunteers were jailed for disturbing the peace, speeding, running stop signs, and vagrancy.

"For six weeks, I carried a toothbrush wherever I went," she told a reporter after she returned to San Francisco. "It was the accepted thing. You just didn't know when you might be thrown in jail. Mrs. Axelrod, not afraid to get embroiled in the thick of a controversial campaign, participated in the voter registration drive.

In 1964, Mrs. Axelrod represented hundreds of civil rights activists arrested during demonstrations against alleged racial discrimination, at the time, on San Francisco's Auto Row and at the Sheraton Palace Hotel. She also worked as a volunteer for the United Farm Workers, and, in 1965, traveled to Vietnam to help organize the first anti-war protests that included women and children.

In 1968, she moved to New Mexico to work as a defense attorney for a Chicano land rights movement group and co- founded the newspaper El Grito del Norte.

From 1975-78, Mrs. Axelrod served as an administrative law judge for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. She founded Ace Investigations in 1978 and served as managing partner of the private investigations firm, which is based in Pacifica and does trial preparation for civil and criminal cases. Sheila O'Donnell, a partner at Ace Investigations who knew Mrs. Axelrod for 15 years, described her as a "force of nature." "She was brilliant, funny, smart, savvy," O'Donnell said. Freude Bartlett, a longtime friend, said Mrs. Axelrod's work was serious, but her personality was fun loving. "She loved to party and she loved to have a good time," Bartlett said. As Mrs. Axelrod's strength and endurance ebbed from emphysema, her greatest regret was that she couldn't dance anymore, Bartlett said.

Mrs. Axelrod, who was preceded in death by her son Clay, is survived by her son Douglas and daughter-in-law Jill Matosich of San Francisco, daughter-in- law Lani Kask of Berkeley, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The family suggests sending memorial donations to Mission Hospice in San Mateo, 151 West 20th Ave., San Mateo, CA 94403.

2002 San Francisco Chronicle. Page A - 21

"Truth pressed to earth shall rise again."

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King March 25, 1965