NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Longtime civil rights activist A. I. ``B'' Botnick has died of heart disease at the age of 71.

Botnick died Thursday at a hospital.

Botnick, a native of New Orleans, worked in Louisiana and Mississippi during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement _ often maneuvering quietly behind the scenes to try to defuse potential violence and thwart the Ku Klux Klan.

``We tried to mediate, to sit down and listen to both sides,'' he once said. ``I said to them, `You can't make somebody love you if they do not love you, but if you work within the system, you can pass laws to control their behavior.' ''

He was once allegedly targeted for assassination by Mississippi white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith. Beckwith was arrested in 1973 driving into New Orleans with a ticking time bomb on his car seat, allegedly headed for Botnick's house.

Beckwith, who had been charged a decade earlier with the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was convicted of carrying a bomb across state lines and served five years. Beckwith is currently serving a life sentence in Evers' slaying.

After becoming known for his activism in the civil rights movement, Botnick was recruited by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and took a position in its Atlanta office in 1961. He returned to New Orleans in 1964 to become regional director, a position he held until his retirement in 1992.

``The death of A.I. `B' Botnick is a terrible loss to the ADL and to all those in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas dedicated to the fight against bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism,'' said Stephen H. Kupperman, chairman of the league's south central region office in New Orleans.

Survivors include his wife, Fay Waldoff Botnick; a son, Michael Botnick; two daughters, Wendeline Botnick of Houston and Lori B. Fireman of Columbus, Ohio; and eight grandchildren.