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Sun, 10.04.1931

William Taylor, Lawyer, and Activist born

William Taylor

*William Taylor was born on this date in 1931. He was a white Jewish-American attorney, lobbyist, and activist.

William Lewis Taylor was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. His parents were first-generation immigrants. They had come to the United States from Lithuania with their parents. In speeches over the years, he said that as a Jewish teenager, he had experienced antisemitism in a neighborhood that Jews shared mainly with Italians.  He first became aware of racism against Blacks when Jackie Robinson broke the baseball color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, Taylor attended Brooklyn College, where he was editor of the school paper but was suspended by the college's president for publishing an article that alleged that a professor had been declined based on his political views. A decade after he graduated from the college in 1952, the college implored federal officials not to hire him for a government job, saying that he had "espoused liberal causes such as the rights of the Negro in the South."  He would earn his law degree in 1954 from Yale Law School. He later taught at Columbus School of Law of The Catholic University of America, Georgetown University Law Center, and at Stanford Law School.

Taylor worked with Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, assisting in civil rights cases in the wake of the United States Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  After the Little Rock, Arkansas, the school board decided to end a desegregation program in 1958, Taylor wrote a brief that convinced the court to require the continued integration of its schools.

He served as general counsel and later as staff director at the United States Commission on Civil Rights during the 1960s, where his research helped lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  He helped formulate a voluntary desegregation plan in the 1980s for St. Louis, Missouri, school system.  With United States District Court Judge William L. Hungate threatening to impose a mandate to combine St. Louis and St. Louis County public school systems, Taylor was able to avert the threat by offering an inter-district transfer program that the city and county districts agreed to voluntarily.

In 1980 married, Harriett Elaine Rosen. In 1982, as vice chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Taylor helped revise civil rights legislation. He headed a team of lawyers that wrote a 75-page report early in the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, criticizing the administration's interpretations of civil rights law.  He was credited with developing the strategy by which liberal organizations recruited law professors to testify against Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court, which ultimately failed in the United States Senate.  Brooklyn College awarded Taylor an honorary degree in 2001.

He also helped draft the 2002 legislation for the No Child Left Behind Act, with the aim of increasing the quality of education by monitoring student performance on standardized tests. Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings described Taylor as "a huge champion for closing the achievement gap, for accountability."  A resident of Washington, D.C., William Taylor, who played a major role in drafting civil rights legislation, died at age 78 on June 28, 2010, at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.

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