This revealing memoir from a half-century’s immersion as a civil-rights lawyer is an attempt to answer the age-old question: “What’s a nice, white, Jewish kid like you doing here?”
Taylor (b. 1931), the son of Lithuanian immigrants, recalls his first conscious civil-rights effort from grade-school days, when he put together an interdenominational softball team in his Brooklyn neighborhood in order to dethrone an affluent, all-Jewish club. But it was in 1954 that the Brooklyn College and Yale Law School graduate, a devout Dodger fan inspired by Jackie Robinson, joined the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. Taylor wrote key briefs that the legendary Thurgood Marshall used to win 29 of the 32 civil-rights cases he argued, including the Supreme Court’s monumental Brown v. Board of Education decision banning segregation in public schools. The Fund became a critical legal buttress of the movement Martin Luther King Jr. championed in the ’60s, and Taylor’s recollections make it abundantly clear that foot-dragging racist politicians could well have stopped the drive had Congress not been harangued by the NAACP, the US Commission on Civil Rights (for which Taylor became General Counsel and Director), and others to back up court-affirmed principles with specific legislative remedies. And in battling the Reagan Administration in the ’80s, he affirms, they did it all over again, successfully blocking anti-rights judges including Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Taylor’s behind-the-scenes vignettes portray some of the nation’s best-known politicians, including presidents, at both their finest and worst in confronting racial issues. He views the Bush regime as threateningly retrograde, claiming that Attorney General John Ashcroft, in his confirmation testimony, “flat-out lied,” both about his opposition to desegregation and his prior use of it in political campaigns.
Vivid and illuminating account of what it’s taken, thus far, to get minority rights from the Constitution onto the street.