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Myrna Taylor, former NAACP head for Central LI, dies at 83

Myrna Taylor in Wheatley Heights in 2004.

Myrna Taylor in Wheatley Heights in 2004. Credit: Newsday / Jim Peppler

Karla Taylor-Bryant remembers tagging along with her mother, Myrna Taylor, to civil rights protests and contentious community meetings, and going door-to-door helping to elect local candidates in Amityville.

She recalls the way people admired and opened up to her mother, a leader in the Amityville community and a mentor to many young people, including, of course, her own children.

"She taught me the value of hard work, the value of community, the value of family and the value of friendship," said Taylor-Bryant, 47, of North Amityville. "She taught me life."

Myrna Taylor, 83, of Amityville, died Sunday of complications from heart and kidney problems.

Taylor was the first woman to lead the Central Long Island Branch of the NAACP and was instrumental in forming the Babylon Breast Cancer Coalition. Her volunteerism and civil rights advocacy earned her the Maxine Postal Humanitarian Award from the Town of Babylon, the Venettes Cultural Workshop Pillar of the Community Award, and the 100 Black Women Long Island Chapter Community Service Award, among others.

"We've lost a great warrior," said Delores Quintyne, 86, of Amityville, a close friend who fought beside Taylor on many fronts to advance the cause of civil rights.

Taylor was born in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, into a family of educators, and she received a bachelor's degree in education after attending New York University and Brooklyn College.

The eldest of three children, Taylor emerged as a leader, serving as president and dean of pledges for the Lambda chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the first African American Sorority. She traveled to Washington to see Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, and developed a strong desire to "fight for equal rights," her daughter said.

While attending a sorority-fraternity gathering, she met DeForrest Taylor, a student at Brooklyn College. They married a few years later, and he went on to head the New York City Housing Authority Police. The couple settled in Amityville in 1971 and remained there for the rest of their lives.

Taylor assumed the leadership of the Central Long Island Branch of the NAACP in 1982 and was at the forefront of battles to combat discrimination in housing and schools, as well as drug dealing in minority neighborhoods.

Taylor-Bryant recalled being there as her mother and other activists protested at meetings of the Amityville Board of Education after the board had fired a black elementary school principal in 1983. Protesters said the principal, Sally Thompson, had been discriminated against because she was black, according to news reports at the time.

Years later, Taylor recalled for Newsday one particularly tense school board meeting. "It was the first time I ever witnessed people who were so hateful," she said. But, she added, the activists stood their ground and the community learned "that we meant business."

Quintyne was also standing with Taylor during those protests. Over the years the two became great friends.

"We would go around in a car with loudspeakers," Quintyne said. "She would drive and I would talk — saying vote for this one and vote for that one. We had fun doing that."
In 1987, Taylor resigned as president of the NAACP chapter to take a job with the Town of Babylon. She was eventually named Babylon's human services commissioner.

In that post, she started the Office for Women, a black history program and a women's history program.

Quintyne's daughter, Madeline Quintyne-McConney, was among the young people who saw Taylor as a mentor. 

"They were community-minded," Quintyne-McConney, 66, who now lives in North Babylon, said of Quintyne and Taylor. "She taught me all about town government."

Quintyne-McConney also eventually became commissioner of Human Services in Babylon, a post she still holds. She still shares Taylor's words of wisdom with her staff.

"In human services, you have to remember we're human and we serve others," Quintyne-McConney said.

In 1993, Taylor ran for a seat on the Babylon Town Board, the first black person to do so in years. She ran on a platform supporting more community policing and holding the line on taxes.

Taylor lost that race, and remained human services commissioner until 2000, when she retired. Her husband died in 2003.

Looking back, Alicia McIlwain-Marks said she warmly remembers Taylor's Christmas parties, which always featured lots of catered food and lots of people.

"Myrna was the type of person who made you feel part of her family," said McIlwain-Marks, 56, of North Babylon. "Myrna Taylor had a presence."

Survivors also include another daughter, Minnette Stevenson; a son, DeForrest F. Taylor; a sister, Ione Foard; a brother, Herbert Fraser; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

The wake for Taylor will be 5-9 p.m. Sunday at Zion Cathedral in Freeport.

The funeral will be 11 a.m. Monday at Hollywood Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral in Amityville.

Burial will follow at Pinelawn Memorial Park.

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