School & District Management

Civil Rights Papers Provide Research Opportunity

By Sarah D. Sparks — May 02, 2011 1 min read
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There can be a thin line between research and advocacy, particularly for researchers investigating inequalities in education. A new collection of historical papers from noted civil rights attorney William L. Taylor details the work of an expert who backed his advocacy with useful research.

“We think about the Civil Rights movement as being Martin Luther king, as being Rosa Parks ... but who were the people behind the scenes developing the strategy?” said Mary Futrell, an education professor at George Washington University in Washington, during a panel at its acceptance of the papers last week.

Mr. Taylor worked with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to force implementation of integration in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, including supporting a beleaguered Little Rock, Ark. school board that faced conflict after it voted to integrate. He also served as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and helped draft portions of the No Child Left Behind Act. At the panel, former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings sent a letter praising Mr. Taylor as “a great man with a wonderful legacy. I’m glad his work and legacy will be shared.”

David Cohen, an education and public policy professor at the University of Michigan and former colleague of Mr. Taylor, said the activist’s work gives an example of the power of partnerships between education advocates and education researchers. Mr. Taylor “married an intense commitment to human rights with an equally intense commitment to getting the facts right,” Mr. Cohen said, adding that during the Civil Rights Commission’s investigation into racial isolation in public schools, “Bill took the initiative at the very beginning of the study to talk to social scientists. He knew if this report was going to be useful it had to make a case that was much broader than an appellate brief could make.”

Mr. Taylor died in 2010, at age 78. Researchers who would like to view the collection can contact the George University Libraries Special Collections Research Center at 202-994-6558.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.