Lifelong Civil Rights Advocate William Taylor Dies

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 29, 2010 2 min read
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Update: EdWeek published an obituary on June 30.

Members of the civil rights community are mourning the passing of William L. Taylor, a longtime civil rights lawyer and advocate, who died late yesterday afternoon at age 78. He was the founder and chair of the Washington-based Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights and a vice chair* of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also based in Washington (*title has been updated from an earlier version). He had recently stepped down as the president of the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

“Bill was one of the very most accomplished desegregation lawyers in the country, and successfully litigated many school desegregation suits, which is not a one-time process,” said David J. Goldberg, the senior counsel and senior policy analyst for the Leadership Conference.

Goldberg added: “Even successful suits require years of enforcement. Bill didn’t just win suits and go away. He stayed engaged.”

“Whether he was in the courtroom, the halls of government, or in a congressional hearing room, Bill Taylor was a consistent voice for equality and justice--a voice that will be deeply missed,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said today in a statement.

As a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Taylor litigated a number of school desegregation cases after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, a statement from the Leadership Conference says.

In his post as the general counsel and staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the 1960s, Taylor played a critical role in laying the foundation for the civil rights legislation of that decade, the statement also says.

Update: “Bill was relentless on behalf of kids that most people didn’t care about,” said Amy Wilkins, the vice president for government affairs and communications for the Education Trust, in a phone interview with me today. She said Taylor was “huge-hearted and fearless” on behalf of low-income children and minority children. While she said she sometimes disagreed with him on which policy was the right one, she did not question his moral compass, which was “true.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Taylor on numerous occasions about the civil rights of English-language learners. When I needed someone with an institutional memory about that group of students, I turned to him. I appreciated his direct and knowledgeable answers to my questions.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.