Joseph Rhodes Jr., Pittsburgh-born activist and Pennsylvania lawmaker, dies at 66

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Joseph Rhodes Jr., a Pittsburgh-born activist and Pennsylvania lawmaker credited with reform legislation in juvenile justice and elder care, died Thursday in Dauphin County's Susquehanna Township at age 66, his family said today.

In 1972, Mr. Rhodes, who was educated in Pittsburgh public schools, became the youngest black person elected to the Pennsylvania House, where he guided nine bills into law in six years representing the 24th district of Allegheny County. One bill amended the Juvenile Justice Act to keep children out of adult jails.

After an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate, Mr. Rhodes served as deputy secretary of commerce and public utilities commissioner, a post in which he advocated for consumer interests.

Before his political career, he was a junior fellow in intellectual history at Harvard University and held university teaching positions at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Pittsburgh. He was a consultant to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and served on the advisory panel of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In 1970, he was appointed to serve on a national commission that investigated campus unrest and the shootings of students at Kent State University and Jackson State College. He refuted the commission’s report with one of his own, prompting Vice President Spiro Agnew to demand his resignation, which he refused.

Some years later, he earned a spot on President Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” which he considered a distinction.


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.

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