RecensionsBook Reviews

Touched with Fire: Morris B. Abram and the Battle against Racial and Religious Discrimination, By David E. Lowe (2019) Lincoln: Potomac Books, 287 pages. ISBN: 978-1-64012-096-9

  • Braham Dabscheck

…plus d’informations

  • Braham Dabscheck
    Senior Fellow, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

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Couverture de Volume 75, numéro 2, printemps 2020, p. 195-416, Relations industrielles / Industrial Relations

Justice John Marshall Harlan, in his famous dissent in Plessy v Ferguson, (that decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, which enunciated the “separate but equal” doctrine that gave a legal imprimatur to Jim Crow) said: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes amongst citizens.” This is a precept that the lawyer Morris Berthold Abram (1918-2000) steadfastly held to throughout his life. Abram is most famous for a long campaign he waged in establishing the principle of “one man, one vote” in overthrowing Georgia’s county unit voting system. His commitment to the Constitution being colour-blind also resulted in him clashing with those that supported quotas and affirmative action to enhance the position and status of African Americans, beginning in the latter part of the 1960s. Abram encountered the incongruity of having once been hailed as a champion of civil rights being denunciated as a villain because of his stance on quotas and affirmative action. David Lowe provides an account of the life of Morris Abram. He employs a traditional chronological account. He only has one “thematic” chapter where he explores Abram’s family life, interactions with others, his intellectual curiosity and gentlemanly Southern style (p. 135-145). Those who worked with Abram praised him for his collegiality and ability to develop consensus. Abram was born of Jewish parents in Fitzgerald, a small town in Georgia, in 1918. His parents were not religious and did not mix with the small Jewish community in Fitzgerald. He did not have a bar mitzvah. He was an exceptional student with his family funding his tuition at the University of Georgia. He won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, which was cancelled because of World War II. The University of Chicago’s Law School offered to provide scholarships to would-be Rhodes scholars. He accepted the offer but was short of income for living expenses, which was picked up by the father of a schoolboy friend. After graduating, he enlisted in the armed forces, serving his time in America. Lowe refers to a key moment that Abram experienced when he was helping out at his father’s store on a break from college. He was looking at a group of white and black sharecroppers and field hands—“ragged, dirty and illiterate”—and asked himself how many of the blacks would he invite home. “The answer was none, but he realized that it was the same for whites”. He then asked himself, “did he require that all blacks be acceptable before any could be, a standard he did not apply to whites?” He also thought about the ways in which Jews were stereotyped in the same way as blacks. He later wrote that “segregation became an abomination to me and irreconcilable with the American tradition” (p. 24). After the war, Abram spent time studying at Oxford and participated in the Nuremberg trials where he learnt first-hand about the evils of Nazism and anti-Semitism. He returned to Georgia, where he was unable to find employment with any of Atlanta’s leading law firms, even with the firm of the friend’s father who provided him with financial support, because he was a Jew. In 1949, he started his campaign against Georgia’s county unit voting system. Under the system in primary elections for Democrat candidates (Republicans were not organized in Georgia so whoever won the primary ended up being elected), counties (or electorates) of different sizes were constructed, which gave greater weight to rural areas over towns and, in turn, cities. A vote in a rural county could carry the weight of 99 in a city. The effect of this system …

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