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San Francisco attorney Benjamin D. James Jr., who worked on desegregating local public schools and several urban renewal projects in the 1960s and 1970s, died suddenly on Nov. 16 at the age of 74. He ran a small private practice in San Francisco that handled probate, family/juvenile dependency, civil rights and more. Although many knew James as a probate attorney, he spent much of his career working on behalf of low-income communities and immigrants, including doing pro bono work. “You hear your dad talk about things when you’re young, and you kind of brush it over,” said his daughter, Angela James. “But when you read it, you realize how much of an impact he had on your life.” James grew up on his family’s farm in Texas and graduated first in his class at Florida A&M University College of Law. As an attorney for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1960s, he worked on several urban renewal projects, including the Western Addition, the city’s first multicultural neighborhood. He later helped develop moderate and low-income housing in numerous San Francisco housing projects such as El Bethel Arms and Marcus Garvey. “He did work that people didn’t want to do . . . helping people who couldn’t help themselves,” said Joel Blackman, who represents the Public Guardian and who worked on a few cases with James. He leaves behind a wife, four children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His family is deciding whether to close, sell or transfer his law practice.

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