In June 2022, Lewis M. Steel, a 1963 alumnus of New York Law School, donated his papers to the Mendik Library to establish a research collection of archival materials from his work as a civil rights lawyer for the NAACP and thereafter in private practice.
Steel’s career spanned almost sixty years and covered a vast array of civil rights cases seeking racial progress in often uncomprehending or hostile courts. The timeline of his career highlights illustrates the enormous diversity and impact of his work, including a host of precedent-setting decisions. Many case files are included in the “Major Cases” section below. These files document how civil rights lawyers like Steel attempted, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to deal with white privilege and race and the heavy resistance they faced in many areas including employment discrimination, zoning laws and racially brutal police actions.
A few examples:
- The 1982 Sumitomo Shoji American, Inc. v. Avagliano case (457 U.S. 176) established that American subsidiaries of foreign corporations must obey American civil rights laws.
- The 1966 Rubin (Hurricane) Carter – John Artis triple murder case in which Artis and Carter were convicted and sentenced to three life terms by an all-white jury for the killing of three whites. The testimony against them was later recanted and in 1985 the convictions were vacated. U.S. District Judge H. Lee Sarokin wrote that the prosecution had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.” (621 F. Supp. 533).
- The 1974 William Anthony Maynard murder case (363 N.Y.S.2d 384) in which Mr. Steel filed five motions for a new trial over the 1972 conviction for manslaughter. Justice Irving Lang set aside Maynard’s conviction and ordered a new trial on March 29, 1974. The case was dismissed in August 1974.
The archive also includes many personal papers including the 1968 feature for The New York Times Magazine entitled "Nine Men in Black Who Think White." After its publication and Steel’s resultant firing from the NAACP, the entire legal staff resigned as a statement of support. Researchers will also find materials from his 2016 memoir, THE BUTLER’S CHILD written with Beau Friedlander. New York Law School is extraordinarily fortunate to have been the beneficiary of this gift, which will provide scholars, students and others researching racial justice and civil rights issues a rich selection of case files and other materials.