The spark that led to Lillie May Carroll Jackson's lifelong career in civil rights occurred in the 1920s when her daughters, Virginia and Juanita, were refused admission to the Maryland Institute College of Art and the University of Maryland, respectively. She enrolled Virginia in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Juanita in Morgan College, then later in the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1933, persuaded by Carl Murphy, President/Publisher of the Afro-American Newspaper, Lillie M. Jackson agreed to serve as chairperson of the reorganization committee of the Baltimore Branch of the NAACP. After which, she was elected president of the Baltimore Branch of the NAACP. Under her leadership, the NAACP membership rose from less than 200 in 1935 to over 25,000 by 1946. She remained president until 1970.
With the help of Carl Murphy, Chairman of the NAACP's Legal Redress Committee, the chapter succeeded in desegregating many private and public facilities, achieving equal employment for many citizens, assisted in the election of African Americans to public office, secured appointments of African Americans to leadership positions, revamped discriminatory laws, and desegregated public schools and institutions of higher education.
Dr. Jackson willed her home to Virginia Jackson-Kiah, her eldest daughter. She is credited with developing the home into a museum. It opened in 1978, as Baltimore's first privately owned museum honoring an African American woman.