Touched with Fire: Mor­ris B. Abram and the Bat­tle against Racial and Reli­gious Discrimination

David E. Lowe

January 1, 2013

Mor­ris B. Abram (1918 – 2000) emerged from hum­ble ori­gins in a rur­al South Geor­gia town to become one of the lead­ing civ­il rights lawyers in the Unit­ed States dur­ing the 1950s. While unmask­ing the Ku Klux Klan and serv­ing as a key inter­me­di­ary for the release of the Rev. Mar­tin Luther King Jr. from prison on the eve of the 1960 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Abram car­ried out a suc­cess­ful four­teen-year bat­tle to end the dis­crim­i­na­to­ry vot­ing sys­tem in his home state, which had entrenched racial seg­re­ga­tion. The result was the his­toric one man, one vote” rul­ing of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963.

At the time of his selec­tion — the youngest per­son ever cho­sen to head the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee — Abram became a lead­ing inter­na­tion­al advo­cate for the Jew­ish state of Israel. He was also a cham­pi­on of inter­na­tion­al human rights, from his lead­er­ship in the strug­gle to lib­er­ate Sovi­et Jew­ry to his ser­vice as per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Unit­ed Nations in Geneva.

In Touched with Fire David E. Lowe chron­i­cles the pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al life of this larg­er-than-life man. Encom­pass­ing many of the con­tentious issues we still face today — such as leg­isla­tive appor­tion­ment, affir­ma­tive action, cam­pus unrest, and the enforce­ment of inter­na­tion­al human rights— Abram’s var­ied career sheds light on our own trou­bled times.

Abram was tapped for ser­vice by five dif­fer­ent U.S. pres­i­dents and sur­vived a bat­tle with acute mye­lo­cyt­ic leukemia. He nev­er aban­doned his belief that the Unit­ed States might some­day become a col­or­blind soci­ety, where peo­ple would be judged, as his friend Mar­tin Luther King dreamed, not by the col­or of their skin but by the con­tent of their char­ac­ter. This ele­gant­ly writ­ten book is the biog­ra­phy Abram has long deserved.

Discussion Questions

Read­ing the biog­ra­phy of Mor­ris B. Abram is a lit­tle like telling the sto­ry of the Exo­dus dur­ing a Passover seder — it would have been enough if he had just been a civ­il rights activist who unmasked the Ku Klux Klan, or was just instru­men­tal in get­ting the Rev­erend Mar­tin Luther King released from prison, or had just fought against the dis­crim­i­na­to­ry vot­ing sys­tem in his home state of Geor­gia result­ing in the his­toric one man, one vote” rul­ing of the U.S Supreme Court.

It would have been enough if he was just a lead­ing advo­cate for the Jew­ish state of Israel, or the youngest per­son cho­sen to lead the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee, or had just led the mas­sive Sovi­et Jew­ry ral­ly on the Wash­ing­ton. D.C. mall, or had just served as chair­man of the Nation­al Con­fer­ence on Sovi­et Jew­ry, and the Con­fer­ence of Pres­i­dents of Major Jew­ish Orga­ni­za­tions. It would have been enough if he had just been the sec­ond pres­i­dent of Bran­deis Uni­ver­si­ty, or the chair­man of the Unit­ed Negro Col­lege Fund, or the ambas­sador to the Euro­pean Office of the UN. It would have been enough had he just served under five Pres­i­dents of the Unit­ed States — from John F. Kennedy through George H. W. Bush.

Author David Lowe deft­ly tells the sto­ry of Mor­ris B. Abram, who was born in 1918 and raised in the small south­ern town of Fitzger­ald, Geor­gia to a Jew­ish fam­i­ly of hum­ble ori­gins. It is the sto­ry of a bril­liant attor­ney and inspir­ing leader who rose to promi­nence dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry bat­tling the very issues that con­tin­ue to chal­lenge us today — leg­isla­tive appor­tion­ment, affir­ma­tive action, cam­pus unrest, and inter­na­tion­al human rights. David Lowe’s biog­ra­phy of Mor­ris B. Abram skill­ful­ly por­trays the life of a giant of a man whose sto­ry is the sto­ry of Amer­i­ca. It will enlight­en and inspire read­ers of every generation.