Juanita Starr Doares

WW photo: Bill Dores

WW photo: Bill Dores

Juanita Ann Starr Doares, a fighter for people’s rights, and against racism and injustice, died on Dec. 11. She was 88 years old.

She was born in 1925 in western North Carolina to Coyt Velma Lingle and Cecil Mims Starr, a telegraph worker. Her father was of Cherokee/Tuscarora descent, her mother came from a long line of German Lutherans who settled in western North Carolina after the Civil War. She was raised in Columbia, S.C., where her family moved when she was 2 and where her sister and brother, Frances and Frank, were born.

During the Depression her father was sometimes out of work and sometimes worked three jobs to support the family. Her mother made sandwiches for the many jobless and hungry people, Black and white, and served them every day on the porch. “We are here on earth to help people,” her mother said. Juanita always remembered those words.

Juanita hated the racism and segregation of the Jim Crow South. Several times she was thrown off city buses for challenging the racist seating rules and refusing to sit while Black passengers were made to stand. She joined the NAACP and voted for Henry Wallace in 1948.

She attended the University of South Carolina and got a job in the college library, replacing a young man named Wade Doares, who had gone off to fight in World War II. They met after the war, when he came to get his old job back. They wed in New York City six years later.

She moved to New York City to attend library school and got a job at the main branch of the New York Public Library. She worked there for 41 years, starting on the night shift in the main reading room and ending up as director of collection development.

Her proudest achievement at the library was working with Jean Blackwell Hutson to save the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and helped moved it into its new home on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem.

She marched against racism, for women’s rights and against imperialist wars from Vietnam to Iraq. After retiring in 1989, she devoted herself to fighting for the rights of retirees, seniors and the disabled. She helped found the Retired Public Employees Association, the New York Public Library Retirees Association and the Older Women’s League. She served as president of all three and edited their newsletters.

In the 1990s, she led a victorious fight for a cost-of-living adjustment for retired New York State employees. She campaigned tirelessly to defend Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, for lower prescription drug costs for seniors and especially for free health care for all. She received RPEA’s Marion Martin Award, OWL’s Joyce Baylen Award and the Dorothy Epstein award of the Joint Public Action Committee for Older Adults.

She supported her spouse, Wade, also a librarian, in his battle with cerebellar ataxia. Both were active members of the National Ataxia Foundation.

She is survived by her sister, Frances, and her son, Bill, a longtime member of Workers World Party.