Will Maslow, who died Friday at 99, was a former executive director of the American Jewish Congress who for decades spearheaded the organization's lawsuits on behalf of blacks and other minorities.
As a crusading young lawyer, he organized the AJC's Commission on Law and Social Action and brought a suit against Columbia University to change its discriminatory admissions quotas, as well as another against the giant Stuyvesant Town Housing Co. to end its restrictive racial policies.
In 1946, he negotiated with Gertz, the largest department store in Jamaica, Queens, to hire blacks for the first time. "The negroes' fight against discrimination in employment, housing, education is part of the struggle for Jews for equality of opportunity in those fields," Maslow told the New York Times when the settlement was announced.
Born in Kiev, Russia, Maslow came to America in 1911 and grew up in Chicago. He attended Cornell University, despite restrictive quotas on Jewish admission, and worked as an editorial writer on the student newspaper, the Daily Sun.
After graduating in 1929, he moved to New York City to attend Columbia Law School while moonlighting at the Times and also as a male model. He was briefly in private practice, then became associate counsel in the New York City Department of Investigation and a trial attorney at the National Labor Relations Board.
In 1943, he was appointed the first director of President Roosevelt's Committee on Fair Employment Practices, which had been created at the urging of the black union leader A. Philip Randolph to investigate discrimination defense contracts.
After the war, the AJC hired Maslow to create a legal department along the lines of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The AJC's confrontational tactics, so different from the more ecumenical approach of the Jewish community in earlier years, ruffled feathers at the Anti-Defamation League and at the American Jewish Committee. Maslow's approach was vindicated by victories that helped lay the groundwork for civil rights for decades.
"Nobody kept the American Jewish Congress quiet," Maslow told the Forward in 2004.
In the 1950s, Maslow filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Brown v. Board of Education and later was on the committee that organized the 1963 march on Washington that culminated in the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.
Maslow was named executive director of the AJC in 1960 and served until 1972. Although he continued to fight black discrimination, relations between the two groups were not always easy. In 1966, Maslow resigned from the Congress of Racial Equality when it refused at first to disavow anti-Semitic remarks by an officer of its Mount Vernon chapter.
Maslow stayed on as counsel to the AJC after 1972 and helped lead the fight against the Arab boycott of Israel in the 1970s and 1980s. A dedicated Zionist, he was a nephew of Paula Ben- Gurion, wife of Israel's founding prime minister. He was also a nephew of the psychologist Abraham Maslow.
Born September 27, 1907, in Kiev; died February 23 at his Upper East Side apartment; survived by his wife of 73 years, Beatrice, his daughters Laura Maslow Armand and Catha Horton, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.