The Passion Of My Times:
An Advocate’s Fifty-Year Journey
In The Civil Rights Movement
Passion Of My Times: An Advocate’s
Fifty-Year Journey In The Civil Rights Movement
Published by Carroll & Graf,
New York, (2004) 251 pp.
Although I was barely
in elementary school during the Freedom Summer of 1964, I
remember sitting in my late parents’ living
room in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, listening to several of their
school teacher friends discuss their plans to register black
voters in the South during their summer vacation. I had little
concept of civil rights, or what this effort represented–only
that it was something very, very serious that had my parents
worried about their friends’ safety.
42 years later, those memories came flooding
back as I read William L. Taylor’s utterly compelling
and engrossing memoir of his involvement as a white, Jewish
man from Brooklyn, as an advocate in the civil rights movement.
He takes us from his early, heady days as part of the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund, where Thurgood Marshall was the chief counsel,
to his appointment as general counsel and staff director of
the United States Commission on Civil Rights, to his later
work maintaining civil rights advances as a founder of the
Center for National Policy Review at Catholic University Law
School in Washington. Some of his causes have included promoting
affirmative action policies, helping black school children
during the process of desegregation in major educational systems,
challenging fiscal inequity in public school funding, and now
teaching, writing and lecturing as an education law adjunct
professor at Georgetown University Law School.
What my own children consider simply part
of a history lesson in a social studies class, where they’ve
dutifully read excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s
speeches, or discussed the political efforts that helped achieve
the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, becomes strikingly
vivid in Taylor’s narrative.
Taylor’s powerful description of
visiting Natchez, Mississippi, where he and a colleague from
the Commission on Civil Rights were menaced by local whites,
is a reminder that the passage of the Civil Rights act was
by no means a certainty, and that the threats to its supporters
were real. He mentions one Justice department investigator
who blockaded the door to his motel room when he was in Mississippi—and
the harrowing experiences of local black residents, who shared
their stories of being beaten and pistol-whipped by white supremacists,
for having had the courage to register other blacks to vote.
It’s chilling, and sobering, and shameful.
It’s not surprising that Taylor is
outraged and appalled by the recent election irregularities,
most notably during the 2000 Presidential election in Florida.
As Taylor writes, “Minority voters are still shortchanged
by inferior voting equipment and ill-staffed polling places...And,
of course, real enfranchisement for people of color will not
be fully realized until their economic conditions and educational
A graduate of Brooklyn
College and Yale Law School, Taylor believes in law as an
instrument of justice that can redress historic wrongs and
help achieve true equality in our society. He writes, “there
are many battles still to be fought, but experience suggests
that they are worth fighting and that they can be won.”
It’s inspiring that after more than 50
years as an advocate for civil rights, Taylor still has that “fire
in the belly,” and is still fighting for liberal causes,
and social justice.#