A white man borne of privilege dedicates his life to the defense of civil rights.
Steel, grandson to Albert Warner, one of the infamous siblings of the Warner Bros. film and TV family, recalls his vibrant life history, which was greatly influenced by racial injustice. Personalizing this theme, he writes of growing up health-challenged and moneyed yet thankfully befriended by the Rutherfords: Bill was the black family servant, and his wife, Lorraina, cooked and cleaned. Bill took the author under his wing amid the condescension of the Warner elite, and Steel’s increasing awareness of a racial hierarchy told him to believe that as a white man, “my color was better, and theirs marked them as lesser people.” That mindset haunted the author and incited an internal struggle to come to terms with and fight against the country’s rampant racial prejudices. Even as a young man, Steel slowly internalized “the social reality of racism from the opposite side of the issue” and “the ways racial prerogatives affect domestic workers.” Steel grew to consider Bill as his dignified “protector,” and their relationship deepened even as race issues continued to sully his experiences at a military academy and as an undergraduate at Harvard, where he met his wife of more than 50 years. The author proudly writes of graduating from law school to honor what he feels was his calling to join the legal staff of the NAACP under the tutelage of the group’s general counsel, Robert Carter. These particular cases offer riveting reading, as Steel immersed himself in a hotbed of critical discrimination cases in the 1960s. After publishing a scathing opinion piece in the New York Times Magazine skewering the Supreme Court for their racial indifference, his immediate termination inspired an NAACP staff walkout in solidarity. Honoring his social conscience and the legacy of Bill Rutherford, Steel remains a civil rights attorney at age 79.
An articulate, emotionally moving chronicle of a life informed by racial unrest and elevated with dutiful humanitarianism.