Obituary: Truxon M. Sykes, 62, activist who helped
By Frederick N. Rasmussen, Sun reporter
Truxon Morris Sykes, a social activist whose concerns included
the homeless and the elderly, AIDS victims and the danger of asbestos
exposure, died of lung cancer Saturday at Manor Care Skilled Nursing
Facility in Towson. He was 62.
"He was a remarkable fellow and an unconventional grassroots
activist. He fought for us when he was in Vietnam, and when he
returned home, he fought for the homeless and a good and fair
housing policy. He appeared on the scene at the right moment,"
said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who said he had been a
friend since 1975.
"He was happy in his work and never complained," she
Mr. Sykes' activism began when he was 12, when he joined the
Young Christian Workers in West Baltimore to warn children about
the dangers of abusing cough syrup. In the next four decades,
he worked tirelessly for the causes that came to define his life.
"He was one of those people who was always for the underdog
and those who had no one to represent them. He was a solid advocate
for oppressed and exploited peoples. There was no greater person
than Truxon," said James Fite, an activist and friend of
"The people he tried to help loved him but couldn't give
him anything more than that. At least a lawyer get a piece of
a settlement and a doctor is paid by Medicare, but Truxon got
nothing and could barely keep a roof over his head," he said.
A. Robert Kaufman, a Baltimore activist who heads the Citywide
Coalition, became acquainted with Mr. Sykes at the Crack of Doom
Coffee House in Baltimore during the late 1950s.
"He was a bright and pretty opinionated guy, but I always
enjoyed his company. He was always moved by the plight of people
and was completely selfless in his work. The money he gave, and
he didn't have much, came right out of his pockets. He had a heart
of gold and was a real mensch," Mr. Kaufman said.
Mr. Sykes was born in Baltimore and raised on Federal Street.
He attended public city schools, where he earned his General Educational
Development diploma, and the Community College of Baltimore.
"In addition to asbestos, Truxon's working life exposed
him to harsh chemicals used in rocket maintenance and chrome and
steel production. He retired about 10 years ago on a medical disability,"
Mr. Fite said.
Mr. Sykes was no stranger to adversity and violence, and had
fought a decade-long battle with drinking and homelessness. Later
in life, he suffered from kidney disease, which required several
transplants and continual dialysis treatments.
"I remember him telling me when he was a wino and footloose
how the police would say the most terrible things about them and
he would respond by saying, 'They're still human beings, you know,'"
Mr. Kaufman said.
He also recalled accompanying Mr. Sykes on an eerie walk though
his old Federal Street neighborhood, during which he pointed to
a rowhouse and explained that its former occupant had died in
a shooting, and to another where someone had lost his lfe to drug
Mr. Sykes went through detoxification five times before overcoming
"I have control of my life. A lot of people don't,"
he told a reporter in 1994.
Mr. Sykes, who had been president and later executive director
of the North East Community Association, and active in the Pentridge
He was a founder of the Baltimore Homeless Union and became a
strong opponent of the anti-panhandling ordinance that the City
Council approved in 1993.
"These people want jobs. They're not asking for a handout;
they're asking for a hand," Mr. Sykes said at a 1993 panhandling
Mr. Sykes was an "importatc force in the development of
drop-in shelters and permanent housing for the homeless in Baltimore
and throughout Maryland," Mr. Fite said.
He was a treasurer of the Baltimore chapter of the White Lung
Association, a worldwide anti-asbestos group. Two years ago, he
raised concerns about the Army's plan to process tons of asbestos
at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"Asbestos is a very dangerous material. It's a terrible
death," Mr. Sykes told The Sun.
"He wanted to educate people as to the dangers of asbestos
and the fact that it should be banned," said Michele O. Hax,
a psychotherapist and White Lung Association board member.
Recently, Mr. Sykes represented the organization at conferences
in Ottowa and Washington.
He wrote two self-published books, The Body Universe and
A Guide to the Next Millennium.
"Truxon certainly found his life's work not in a church
but on the streets of Baltimore," said his sister-in-law,
Frances Sykes of Northwest Baltimore.
Also surviving are several cousins.
Monday April 15th 2006
Truxon Sykes Memorial Educational Fund has received over $1,356.00
in contributions since June 21st of this year. Truxon Sykes, WLA
National Treasurer, passed from complications caused by asbestos
and benzene exposure and kidney failure. Our special thanks goes
out to Francis Sykes, beloved Sister-in-Law of Truxon, has organized
many of the contributions.