WASHINGTON - William Taylor, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and civil rights activist for more than half a century who fought discrimination on many fronts and was particularly dedicated to desegregating the nation's schools, died Tuesday in Bethesda, Md., of complications from a fall. He was 78.
In a career spanning six decades, Taylor worked largely behind the scenes in courtrooms and on Capitol Hill, advising members of Congress, drafting legislation and taking advantage of changing attitudes about race and equality to strengthen the nation's civil rights laws and their enforcement.
One of his early mentors was Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American Supreme Court justice. Taylor went to work for Marshall at the NAACP Legal and Education Defense Fund in 1954, months after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed public school segregation.
In 1958, Taylor helped write the NAACP's legal brief for the Supreme Court case that compelled schools in Little Rock, Ark. - and required schools across the nation - to comply with Brown v. Board and integrate public schools.
During the 1960s, Taylor was general counsel and staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He played a key role in organizing on-the-ground hearings and investigations into discrimination against African Americans in the Deep South. The resulting recommendations by the commission became the foundation for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Taylor was born Oct. 4, 1931, in Brooklyn, the son of Jewish emigrants from Lithuania. Growing up, Taylor was the target of anti-Semitic slurs.
In 1952, he graduated from Brooklyn College, where he met his future wife, Harriett Rosen. He graduated from Yale University's law school in 1954.
His wife of 43 years, who became a District of Columbia Superior Court judge, died in 1997.