Executive Director Colleen K. Connell Remembers Burt Joseph

Document Date: April 5, 2010
Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois

On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, I mark with sadness the recent passing of our friend and our inspiration, Burt Joseph. The simple recitation of Burt’s activities on behalf of our beloved Constitution — both for the ACLU and for other organizations — does not adequately capture the impact Burt had on the effort to protect civil liberties in the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois or across the nation.

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At the most critical moments when free expression and free speech were in need of protection, Burt Joseph was present to step forward and defend the right of all persons to exercise their constitutional rights. He never worried about doing what was popular; he never feared a bruising fight against unyielding public opinion. Burt Joseph was driven by a set of principles that were fixed in his mind from a young age — to defend basic constitutional rights and to make the justice system work to assure that these treasured rights are extended to all persons. His courage, ferocity and intelligence inspired many of us in Illinois (and many across the nation) to take up this cause and devote our lives to working for the Constitution.

Over more than four decades, Burt’s contribution to the ACLU in Illinois and to civil liberties generally can be seen by the issues he directed. He first fought for free expression in the early 1960s when he represented a client seeking to sell Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer in suburban Lake County. Later, he challenged the Chicago Park District after they refused to rent Soldier Field for a rally in support of then-Presidential candidate George McGovern. And, as a member of the ACLU of Illinois Board (he later served as Chair of our Advisory Committee), Burt was among the great leaders who propelled the organization into supporting the right of a group of neo-Nazis to march in suburban Skokie, then home to many Holocaust survivors.

Perhaps more important, we knew Burt as a friend. His friendly nature, his willingness to share time and experience with those who followed after him and his general good humor made him a joy to be around. Life was never uninteresting, never uninspiring when Burt was in the room.

On behalf of the ACLU of Illinois, I extend our deepest condolences to Burt’s wife Babs, his daughters, his family members and friends. He will be missed.

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