In the tempestuous days of school desegregation and busing in Boston, Maceo Dixon of the National Student Coalition Against Racism believed that the path to equal education for black students would come through peaceful demonstrations.
Built like a football player, he led marches in support of busing and dreamed of a fully integrated public school system.
“Maceo was always at the front of the march looking absolutely serene and defiant at the same time,” said his friend Don Gurewitz of Somerville, who marched with him in the 1970s.
Mr. Dixon, a Detroit native who became an activist with the Socialist Workers Party and ran unsuccessfully for Boston City Council in 1995, died of heart disease May 30 in an Atlanta hospital. He was 62 and lived in Stone Mountain, Ga.
He had been hospitalized since early March, when he collapsed at his job as a machinist at Ceradyne Inc., according to his family.
Friends said Mr. Dixon had been deeply committed to social justice since his days as a freshman at the University of Michigan in the late 1960s and left school to advocate for civil rights.
Beginning in the early 1970s, he lived in Dorchester, where he advocated for civil rights and social justice. In 1993, he was the Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of Boston, but failed to gather enough signatures to get his name on the ballot.
In 1975, as opposition to the school desegregation plan in Boston grew more violent, Mr. Dixon helped lead a major march through the city.
“Bigots are attempting to use Boston to turn back progress, history, and the law,” Mr. Dixon wrote in an article on the op-ed page the Globe published in February 1975. “For us, Boston is a launching pad for a new civil rights movement whose initial victory will be the complete, citywide desegregation of this city’s schools.”
He believed that what happened in Boston could have an impact beyond the state’s borders.
“The entire nation watches to see if the just law of the land outlawing segregation will be implemented, or, as the antibusing forces demand, overturned, along with gains of the civil rights movement it embodies,” he wrote. “The real danger of a victory for the most backward elements of this city would be a spur to their ilk across the country.”
When buses carrying black students were met by racist chants and rocks in some neighborhoods, Mr. Dixon volunteered to ride along on the buses, according to Gurewitz, a former General Electric machinist who is now a photographer.
“One thing about Maceo was he was fearless on those buses with the kids,” Gurewitz said. “He had tremendous respect for the commitment and quiet determination of the students who would not back down.”
Paul Mailhot, who was also a leader of the National Student Coalition Against Racism in the 1970s, said he first met Mr. Dixon in Boston during the busing crisis when Mailhot was a freshman at Boston State College.
“He was very dynamic,” said Mailhot, who lives in New York City. “He could get a crowd going in terms of understanding the issues.”
Mr. Dixon graduated from high school in Michigan. His mother worked at a General Motors plant, and his father worked for the US Postal Service, according to Mr. Dixon’s wife, Andrea. He spent many years working as a machinist for Northwest Airlines before going to work for Ceradyne.
Mr. Dixon’s wife said they were married 28 years, and she called him a “loving devoted husband who was very humble, very compassionate, very committed to anything he was involved in.”
In recent years, Mr. Dixon remained active with the Socialist Workers Party and worked to place books offered by the party’s publishing arm, Pathfinder Press, in bookstores. Members of the political party held a celebration of Mr. Dixon’s life in Atlanta.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Dixon leaves his sisters Rondall Dixon Hawkins and Denise Grasty, both of Detroit.
After his death, Mr. Dixon’s friends circulated an April 1976 flier promoting a debate at Georgia State University between Mr. Dixon and Louise Day Hicks, the first female president of the Boston City Council and a founder of the antibusing group Restore Our Alienated Rights.
She wound up debating another leader of the antiracism coalition. Mr. Dixon opted to stay in Boston amid rising tensions.
He attempted to organize another march that spring, but the event was called off because of fears of more violence.
In a July 1976 letter to the Globe, Mr. Dixon reiterated his devotion to peaceful protest after left-wing groups claimed responsibility for bombings in New England.
“We are still opposed to the violence,” he wrote. “We believe that social change can only come about through peaceful, legal, organized mass action.”