1928 - 2013
Charles Wittenstein died on February 4, 2013 at the age of 85 after a long battle with cancer.
Charles Wittenstein contributed over three decades of service to the Jewish community as well as to numerous social justice causes throughout the country, earning him the respect and admiration of his colleagues and organizational leaders.
Charles was a native of Brooklyn, New York. After attending public school there, he received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Columbia University and his Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School. He was admitted in the New York Bar in 1952 and the Georgia Bar in 1954.
Charles served in the NY National Guard 142nd Heavy Tank Battalion and spent six years as a Sergeant, First Class in the US Army Reserves Military Government/Civil Affairs Company.
Charles moved to Atlanta in 1953 where he began practice with the law firm of Heyman, Abram, and Young. Soon after his arrival, Charles began his notable contributions to the community. While working with the American Jewish Committee, Charles worked to desegregate public accommodations, schools, private and public hospitals in Atlanta. He performed evaluations for the U.S. Health, Education & Welfare Department throughout the South to ensure hospitals qualified for Medicare by complying with the civil rights act of 1964. During that same time, Charles also worked to change the employment policy at Agnes Scott College, a private women's college under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, in reaction to its anti-Jewish faculty hiring policies.
Charles was also Chairman of the DeKalb Community Relations Commission in the 1960s.
After leaving the American Jewish Committee, Charles served as Executive Director of the Atlanta Charter Commission, which revised and replaced the city's 100-year-old charter. The Charter Commission met as Atlanta was turning from a majority white city into a majority black city; the changes put in place by the new charter would help elect Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first African-American mayor. As the professional staff director, Charles helped set the tone of the deliberations. He was particularly proud of the fact during the 18-months and hundreds of votes conducted by the Commission, no vote of the commission split along racial lines.
In 1973 Charles became the Southern Civil Rights Director and Southern Counsel for the Anti-Defamation League. His responsibilities included serving as legal advisor to the League's eight offices covering twelve southern states on matters pertaining to legislation, litigation, and fact-finding on right- and left-wing extremist groups. He retired from the ADL in 1994.
Among Charles' numerous contributions of historical importance were his efforts in securing the posthumous pardon for Leo Frank, an Atlanta Jewish businessman who was convicted of murder in 1913 in an atmosphere where anti-Semitic rhetoric and prejudice prevailed. Leo Frank was subsequently lynched by a mob in Cobb County, Georgia. Charles was also noted for his work in sustaining the constitutionality of the Georgia anti-mask law. Charles appeared on ABC's Nightline, CBS's Evening News and Nightwatch, as well as on many other television and radio programs dealing with racism and anti-Semitism.
Charles also established and maintained close ties with the law enforcement community in Georgia. He was appointed by the Governor to the Georgia Committee on Civil Rights Under Color of Law. This commission established and published guidelines for law enforcement agencies on protecting the civil rights of Georgia citizens. He frequently consulted with law enforcement and was a guest instructor at law enforcement training centers on issues dealing with hate groups and hate crimes.
Charles is survived by his wife of 60 years, Elinor Heyman Wittenstein, his three children and their spouses, Robert and Susan Wittenstein of Dunwoody, David and Lee Wittenstein, of Bethesda, MD, and Ruth and Gary Musicante, Silver Spring, MD and his six grandchildren, Rebecca Wittenstein, Daniel Musicante, Jonathan Musicante, Eric Wittenstein, Greg Wittenstein and Adam Wittenstein.
Funeral services will be held at The Temple, 1589 Peachtree Street, Northeast at 11:30am on Wednesday, February 6.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to the Charles Wittenstein Summer Associate Research Program at the Anti-Defamation League.