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Subject: Edith Tiger, Proponent of Liberties for the Dissident

Dies at 83
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Date Posted: October 30, 2002 8:07:22 EDT

Edith Tiger, the director of a civil liberties organization who fought for the rights of people ranging from the victims of McCarthyism to Haitian refugees to rebellious high school students, died on Oct. 22 in Brooklyn. She was 83.

She had a heart attack at a diner in Brooklyn Heights, the neighborhood where she lived, her daughter, Martha Potter, said.

Ms. Tiger was director of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee from 1968 until it merged into the Center for Constitutional Rights in 1998. She began working full time for the committee in 1956, five years after its founding.

The organization was founded by I. F. Stone, the iconoclastic journalist, and five other civil libertarians, as an alternative to the American Civil Liberties Union, which insisted that its officers take an oath that they were not Communists. The new committee was committed to defending those accused of being Communists, and its first cases involved those facing Congressional committees.

Its later cases included fighting for freedom to travel, even to Communist countries; protecting draft resisters in the Vietnam War and a deserter in the Persian Gulf war; trying to reverse the perjury conviction of Alger Hiss, in part for denying that he gave secrets to the Russians; and suing for the admission of girls to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.

But unlike the A.C.L.U., Ms. Tiger's committee never defended the constitutional rights of groups like neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, said Jeff Kisseloff, an author who edited the group's magazine, Rights.

Ms. Tiger worked behind the scenes as chief phone-caller and fund-raiser. Her chores ranged from arranging meetings to suggesting possible targets for legal action to warmly greeting Abbie Hoffman whenever he came to the office.

One of Ms. Tiger's jobs was selecting winners of the group's Tom Paine award, which it awarded at its annual fund-raising dinner. Recipients included Bertrand Russell, Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda and Bella Abzug.

Ms. Tiger was born in Poland on June 10, 1919. She never knew her given Yiddish name, and became Edith Zwick at 3 after her mother immigrated to Brooklyn for an arranged marriage.

Her mother had another daughter, Rachel Swoger of Providence, R.I., who was Ms. Tiger's half-sister and survives her. In addition to her daughter, Ms. Tiger's other survivors include three grandsons and three great-grandsons.

Miss Zwick dropped out of school and married Dave Tiger when she was 15. That marriage ended in divorce. Ms. Tiger's second husband, Charles Roach, died last December.

She never returned to school, but bought used books by the pound at bookshops on Fourth Avenue in Manhattan. She helped support her family by selling eggs, and she became a volunteer clerk at the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee around 1952. In 1956, she became a full-time paid employee. She became director in 1969.

By 1998, the committee had lost many of its older anti-McCarthy members and had not replaced them with people with newer concerns.

"The world is getting smaller," she said about the merger with the Center for Constitutional Rights. "The old people who gave money are dying, and the younger people don't want to give. Or they don't give to political movements. They give to charities, to what's in the news, like AIDS or abortion. There isn't the politics that there used to be."

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