Remembering the Legacy of Civil Rights Legend William L. Taylor

Media 06.29,10

Bill TaylorWilliam L. Taylor, legendary civil rights attorney and education advocate, died on June 28 of complications resulting from a recent fall.

Taylor was known for his tireless efforts to create a public education system that truly meets the needs of the nation’s marginalized children. He successfully litigated a number of major public school desegregation cases in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Since 1982, Taylor served as a vice chair of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, where he played a major role as a strategist for passing legislation to extend and strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He also helped lead successful efforts to enact the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. He also served as chair of The Leadership Conference Education Fund board.

“Bill was an extraordinary lawyer and among the fiercest and most dedicated advocates for the rights of all people in the United States that our country has ever produced. His death leaves a void that won’t easily be filled,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference.

Taylor was born in 1931 in Brooklyn, N.Y.  After graduating from Yale Law School in 1954, he began his legal career as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, where he worked alongside Thurgood Marshall. He later served as general counsel of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and was the commission’s director from 1965 to 1968. For 15 years, Taylor taught civil rights law at Catholic University, where he founded the Center for National Policy Review, a civil rights research and advocacy organization.

Taylor was also a founder and chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights. After entering private practice in 1986, he continued to advocate for education reform legislation on behalf of minority and low-income children.  He also taught law at the Georgetown University Law Center. 

In 1993, Taylor was selected as the first recipient of the D.C. Bar’s Thurgood Marshall Award.  In 2001, he received the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award, presented to those who best exemplify “selfless and devoted service in the cause of equality.”

Taylor was married to the late Superior Court Judge Harriett R. Taylor for 43 years.  He is survived by their three children, a brother, and three grandchildren.

The family has requested that tributes in memory of Bill Taylor be made to the Bill Taylor Memorial Fund at the Leadership Conference Education Fund, 1629 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20006. Checks may be made payable to The Leadership Conference Education Fund. Please memo the check: “Bill Taylor Memorial Fund.”

Contributions may also be made online. The Leadership Conference Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization, and donations are tax-deductible.

Sign our guestbook in remembrance of Bill Taylor

Statements by Wade Henderson and Karen Lawson on the passing of Bill Taylor

The Loss of Civil Rights Advocate William L. Taylor” – The Washington Post

William Taylor, Vigorous Rights Defender, Dies at 78” – The New York Times

William L. Taylor, 78; Washington lawyer, champion of civil rights” – The Washington Post