C. DeLores Tucker

The 67-year-old African American feminist never stopped the distribution of any music. But now she is embroiled in an increasingly bitter and personal dispute with Death Row Records, home to such rap stars as Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Doggy Dogg. (Ron Edmonds / Associated Press)

C. DeLores Tucker captured the outrage of many parents three years ago when she declared war on gangsta rap music. Prominent politicians leaped to her side. She became a celebrity by denouncing companies that "pimped porno rap" to children.

The 67-year-old African American feminist never stopped the distribution of any music. But now she is embroiled in an increasingly bitter and personal dispute with Death Row Records, home to such rap stars as Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur and Snoop Doggy Dogg.

Instead of leading a moral crusade, she spends her time defending herself against a civil lawsuit that suggests she had an economic motive for criticizing rap music. Her credibility has been challenged by accusations that she misrepresented her educational credentials, profited from ownership of slum properties in Philadelphia and was fired as Pennsylvania's secretary of state for using her post for personal gain.

The allegations, which she denies, were dug up by a hard-nosed San Francisco detective firm, Palladino & Sutherland, retained by Death Row. The Westwood-based record company sued Tucker last summer for contractual interference, alleging that she tried to persuade it to break a deal with Interscope Records, its distributor. The lawsuit was filed one month before Time Warner dropped both Death Row and Interscope as the national rap controversy escalated.

Tucker says the lawsuit is nonsense. Death Row, she says, launched its "smear campaign" for one reason only: to silence her.

"They want me to back off, but I won't," Tucker said in a phone interview from the headquarters of her Washington-based nonprofit organization, the National Political Congress of Black Women. "It's important to pay attention to who is dredging up all these charges. Remember, these are the same people who are out there pimping pornography to your children. Their record and records speak for them. I've been an activist all my life. My record speaks for itself."

Death Row CEO Suge Knight says he hired the detectives to investigate allegations raised in the lawsuit, as well as to find out about Tucker's background and her motivations for attacking his company. (Legal experts say hiring private detectives for this kind of work is standard practice in business lawsuits.)

"C. DeLores Tucker is a phony," Knight says. "She is making a career out of disrespecting Death Row and our artists by pretending to be some great moral guardian. It's time that people found out who the sister really is."

Tucker's record in politics and civil rights has been well-documented in Philadelphia newspapers.

One of 11 children of a Bahamian preacher, Tucker spent much of the 1960s marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and raising funds for social and political causes within the Democratic Party.

Founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Assn. for Non-Violence, she has long championed equal rights and economic opportunity for African Americans, especially single mothers and young males.

She often invokes King's name when attacking the lyrics and lifestyles of such Death Row stars as Snoop Doggy Dogg, who was acquitted of murder last month, and Shakur, who is appealing a sexual abuse conviction.

"The pimps in the entertainment industry who distribute gangsta rap are major contributors to the destruction of the African American community," says Tucker, who counts among her friends such venerable figures as Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou and Coretta Scott King.

"What do you think Dr. King would have to say about rappers calling black women bitches and whores? About rappers glorifying thugs and drug dealers and rapists? What kind of role models are those for young children living in the ghetto?"

Ghetto life is familiar to Tucker.

Her father was an unsalaried pastor at a church he founded in north Philadelphia, one of the city's most poverty-ridden neighborhoods. Her mother paid the bills by running a grocery store and renting dozens of tenement buildings that she owned to indigent black families that had moved north in search of factory work.

Tucker inherited 24 of those buildings from her mother in 1959, the year her husband opened a real estate company. Tucker says they remodeled the buildings with government loans and leased them out as single-family dwellings to tenants chosen by the city.

One year after Tucker marched with King in Selma, Ala., in 1965, inspectors ruled that 10 of her Philadelphia tenements were in substandard condition and were a threat to the lives of the occupants. A 1966 Philadelphia Inquirer article listed the Tuckers among the city's worst slumlords.

Tucker calls the allegations "ridiculous."