Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview
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§36 Shad Polier

Shad Polier, an attorney dedicated to equality and humanitarianism, was born on March 18, 1906 in Aiken, South Carolina. Polier graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1926 with his B.S. He then attended Harvard University where he earned his LL.B., as well as, his LL.M. In 1930 Polier was admitted to the New York bar, and practiced law in New York City until his death in 1976. He also served as vice president of the American Jewish Congress and as chairman of the National Governing Council and of the Congress’s Commission on Law and Social Action. In addition, Polier was actively involved in the NAACP, serving for more than 30 years on the executive committee of the organization’s Legal and Educational Defense Fund.

Polier made evident his passion for civil rights throughout his life. In 1946 he prosecuted Columbia University’s college of Physicians and Surgeons charging that the university’s admissions process discriminated against Jewish and minority students. The state of New York’s very first fair education practices law was passed due to Polier’s actions. Again in New York, Polier fought to eliminate racial injustices in 1948 when he brought suit against the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The company owned an apartment development, Stuyvesant Town, which allegedly discriminated against blacks. Although the lower court supported the exclusion of blacks from the apartment development and the Supreme Court would not hear the case, the American Jewish Congress continued its drive for fair housing laws. Furthermore, Polier took part in the monumental court case, Brown v. Board of Education, which eliminated the legal basis for segregation in Kansas and 20 other states that enforced segregated classrooms. He, along with other members of the American Jewish Congress, filed briefs of amici curiae, supporting students’ rights to obtain equal education. Polier died in 1976, survived by his wife, Justine Wise Polier. His papers are housed at the American Jewish Historical Society in Waltham, Massachusetts.

In his address to the NAACP, Polier begins with a striking parallel between Jews and blacks: their collective “walks to freedom.” From ancient Egypt to modern-day Montgomery, Polier forges a powerful sense of identification between the two groups in his very first paragraph. Polier also emphasizes the American Jewish Congress’s belief that true liberty and democracy can exist only when all citizens hold equal rights. While doing so, he also speaks out against state legislatures that attempted to weaken the NAACP’s efforts to promote integration, specifically the rights to expression, assembly, and association. Polier assures his audience of the AJC’s strong support and understanding of their struggle for civil liberty. He assures the NAACP that Jewish Americans have experienced the results of policies of silence on controversial issues, and nearly all are committed to a proactive policy regarding the fight for civil rights for blacks and all Americans.

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