Jacob Schlitt, beloved father, grandfather, husband, activist and public servant, died in Boston at the age of 90 on Friday, June 22, 2018 / 9th of Tammuz 5778. Jacob spent his life fighting for “a shenere un besere velt,” a better and more beautiful world. An advocate for labor, civil rights, Yiddish culture and democratic socialism, Schlitt was honored in 2014 by the Boston Democratic Socialists of America with the Debs-Thomas-Bernstein Award. He is survived by his wife, Frances Morrill Schlitt and their son, David (Sarah); his first wife, Sylvia Schlitt, and their three children, Carol (Alan), Lewis (Nina) and Martha (Mark); and grandchildren Miles, Henry and Elliott.
Jacob Schlitt was born in the Bronx in 1927, the only child of Celia Schlitt (nee Goldstein) and Louis Schlitt. Celia was a garment-worker and self-taught intellectual who participated in New York’s 1910 cloakmakers strike and raised Jacob alone following the death of her husband in 1931. He attended Knowlton Junior High, Stuyvesant High School and the City College of New York. Growing up during the Great Depression, Jacob and his friends forged a social group called the ROL, for “Reading Out Loud.” The ROL grew to include spouses, children, and grandchildren, and comprises an extended family with whom Schlitt shared life-long bonds.
At CCNY in the late 1940s he was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality, and active in the student strike against racism and anti-Semitism. In 1950 he became an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, then a staffer for the Jewish Labor Committee before becoming Education Director of the Amalgamated Laundry Workers Union. While there Jake volunteered with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters for the historic 1963 March on Washington, bringing five busloads of Laundry Workers to the March. On the staff of the US Commission on Civil Rights since 1965, he was named Director of the newly formed New England regional office in 1979. Jake then helped found the Greater Boston Civil Rights Coalition, and was an early participant in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.
Schlitt has been a member of the Workmen’s Circle since 1956, and served as president of the Boston chapter. In 1973 Jake participated in the founding convention of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, which later evolved into the DSA. In retirement he continued to serve on the New England Jewish Labor Committee’s Executive Board.
Schlitt loved music and the visual arts, was an accomplished amateur sculptor and master joke-teller. In his retirement he penned hundreds of autobiographical essays and participated in the Brookline Senior Center’s memoir-writing group, “Telling Your Story.” Jake leaves a legacy of unconditional love for his wife, four adult children, and their families. He took great joy in knowing that they, each in their own way, were committed to the ideals of bread and roses. He spent his ninetieth birthday surrounded by his family trading jokes and stories from a life rich with both.
Funeral Service to be held at 1pm on Monday, June 25 at Wilson Chapel, 234 Herrick Rd, Newton, MA 02459. Shiva at the home of Fran Morrill Schlitt. Contributions may be made in Jacob’s name to the Boston Workmen’s Circle.