GW to acquire papers of late activist

A collection of documents that belonged to a lifelong civil rights advocate will come to Gelman Library this spring.

William Taylor, who passed away over the summer, was an attorney and lobbyist who advocated on behalf of African-Americans during the civil rights era and played a major role in drafting civil rights legislation.

“The collection houses about 80 boxes of material that contain legal papers, speeches, published works and correspondence documenting his involvement in these historic moments of U.S. history,” said Meredith Raiford, director of the Special Collections Research Center at Gelman Library.

Taylor’s career began in 1954, when he wrote much of the legal brief for the landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education. He went on to work at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund alongside future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Taylor served as general counsel, and later as staff director, at the United States Commission on Civil Rights during the 1960s and as vice chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in the 1980s. Taylor continued his work in civil rights legislation throughout his life, helping draft the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, which aims to increase the quality of education by monitoring student performance on standardized tests.

Michael Feuer, dean of the GW Graduate School of Education and Human Development, knew Taylor personally and professionally for 20 years, and helped acquire the collection from Taylor’s daughter, Lauren Taylor, an alumna.

“Bill was a dedicated [National Academy of Sciences Board on Testing and Assessment] citizen and active member of the board,” Feuer said. “He was a colleague, mentor and friend that never drifted from his roots as a Jewish boy from Brooklyn.”

After Taylor’s death, Feuer started collecting Taylor’s works.

His daughter, also a guest lecturer on women’s studies, donated the collection as a gift to the University.

The library also acquired the papers of Taylor’s wife, Harriett R. Taylor, a senior judge of the District of Columbia Superior Court who worked with Washington’s poor and homeless. Her collection includes correspondence, photographs, legal files and publications from her career as D.C. Superior Court judge.

“In the [GW] Graduate School of Education, there is a very strong commitment to the study of civil rights,” Feuer said. “The archive would become the basis of study for civil rights educators.”

The documents still need to be catalogued, indexed and digitized before they will be publicly available next spring.

“It was pretty amazing going through the boxes. It was certainly one of the more exciting parts of the job,” Raiford said.

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