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Mediation Pioneer Richard A. Salem 1930-2014

From Peter Salem

Dick Salem passed away on March 22, 2014 due to complications from a stroke. He was a mediation pioneer whose career took him from the city desk at the Washington Post to mediating high profile civil rights cases as the Midwest Regional Director of the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service. He was also my father, and I know that it was a distinct privilege for him to serve our field for more than 40 years.

As director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Washington D.C. office, he was responsible for implementing the programs of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. That experience exposed him to work in race relations that led to his conflict resolution career. In 1968 he was appointed Midwest Director of the Community Relations Service in the U.S. Department of Justice. He mediated many disputes including the 1978 Skokie-Nazi conflict in Illinois, the Kent State University dispute over construction on the site of the 1973 student shootings, and numerous police-community, prison, school desegregation, and civil rights conflicts. In 1973 he received a citation from President Nixon for his mediation during the takeover of Wounded Knee at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Between 1979 and 1995, Dick Salem made 15 extended trips to South Africa where he trained and mentored colleagues in negotiation and mediation in community conflicts. He served on the initial training committee of South Africa’s National Peace Accord, and provided training for the Accord’s regional and local peace committees. He subsequently trained and consulted in six countries in East and West Africa, Northern Ireland, and El Salvador. He was sent to Rwanda by the U.S. State Department in 1997 as a trainer in community conflict. While there he was deeply affected by the drawings of child survivors of the 1994 genocide. He saw how dramatically the children remembered the trauma and felt it was important that the story be told through their eyes, which he did by editing, writing and publishing Witness to Genocide: The Children of Rwanda, which included a foreword written by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Throughout his career he published numerous journal articles and in 1987 co-authored A Student’s Guide to Mediation and the Law with Nancy Rogers. In addition to his international and high profile work, he was a fervent supporter of community mediation, volunteering as a mediator and Board member of the Neighborhood Justice Center of Chicago (now Center for Conflict Resolution). He served as on the Boards of the World Mediation Forum and the Society of Professionals in Dispute Resolution, and he mentored numerous aspiring mediators (including his son).

Although retired, my father remained interested in developments in the field and his expertise and experience were sought up until his passing. He was scheduled to present this spring to the Illinois Chapter of the Association of Attorney Mediators. He also recently spent an hour talking about his experiences with Grande Lum, the Director of the Community Relations Service. Dick was scheduled to meet with the staff of the Chicago CRS office only days following his stroke. Upon learning of his illness, Director Lum notified the entire agency, which resulted in an email from CRS Regional Director Pascual Marquez, in which he describes my father:

Your dad should remember me as he hired me way back in 1972. He mentored, coached me and led by his example. It is because of him and John Terronez that I am where I am in CRS today. It seems like just yesterday that I met your father and the CRS Chicago team. I remember him telling me “that if I didn’t want to be a regional director, I shouldn’t be in this line of work.” That seemed like it happened just yesterday and here I am telling you about it 42 years later. I am the last of the old CRS corps

I spent 63 days at Wounded Knee and I had the opportunity to work with your father on that assignment. I still shudder at the thought of him driving his vehicle into Wounded Knee from the rear of “Red Arrow,” a US Marshal bunker who was exchanging gunfire with elements of the American Indian Movement. Your dad never informed anyone of his intentions (to attempt to mediate the dispute) including Wayne Colburn, the Director of the US Marshal Service. All he had to indicate that he was not a combatant was a white handkerchief tied to the car’s antenna. If he hadn’t tied that handkerchief to the antenna, the Marshal’s surely would have fired at him. If they had missed, AIM surely wouldn’t have. But, your father felt that the situation was grave enough to put himself in harm’s way. Luckily, no one fired at him.

The Salem family wishes to thank all of Dick’s friends and colleagues for the vibrant professional community that you have created and nurtured, one that allowed him to thrive.

Interview with Richard Salem


This is the complete interview by Robert Benjamin with Richard Salem, a pioneer in the field of mediation and dispute resolution, filmed as part of’s “The Mediators: Views from the Eye of the Storm” Series.

Richard Salem: Process of an Effective Mediator – Video


Richard Salem explains how an effective mediator facilitates a mediation and the process used to bring understanding and agreement.

Salem, Richard: Early Experiences in Chicago – Video


Richard Salem talks about his earlier experiences with running an office in Chicago while there were street disturbances during the democratic convention in 1968.

Salem, Richard: Experience in Rwanda Post Genocide – Video


Richard Salem shares his experience training local leaders in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, as well as helping to draft a book of chilren’s drawings from the genocide.

Salem, Richard: Growth of Mediation – Video


Richard Salem discusses what has pleased him about the field which includes growth and acceptance of mediation.

Richard Salem: Mediating the Skokie-Nazi Conflict – Video


Richard Salem briefly discusses mediating the Skokie-Nazi conflict through the organization CRS (Community Relations Service).

Salem, Richard: CRS in Battle of Wounded Knee – Video


Richard Salem describes agency cutbacks as Community Relations Service was preventing violence in the Battle of Wounded Knee.

Salem, Richard: Police Vs. Black Panthers in California – Video


Richard Salem describes his time serving as an intermediary between police and the black panthers in Richmond, California.


Richard Salem

Between 1979 and 1995, Richard Salem made 15 extended trips to South Africa where he pioneered the training of negotiation and mediation in community conflicts. He served on the initial training committee of South Africa's National Peace Accord and provided training for the Accord's regional and local peace committees. In… MORE >

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