Jewish Studies Lecture Series
Leandra Zarnow, "The Making of a 'People's' Politician: Jewish Congresswoman Bella Abzug's First Career as an Early Civil Rights Lawyer"
Bella Abzug (D-NY) was a member of Congress between 1971 and 1976. As a lawyer in the late 1940s and 1950s, she defended workers, racial minorities, and political dissenters -- clients deemed "un-American." In this talk, Leandra Zarnow will describe Abzug's most remarkable cases -- the Willie McGee trial and the Peekskill personal injury suit -- and explain how Abzug connected the fights for civil liberties and civil rights in her legal arguments defending her clients. In drawing attention to the forces behind both Jim Crow and McCarthyism, Abzug joined a legal vanguard that challenged Cold War complacency and state secrecy. Moreover, Abzug's legal arguments were distinctly shaped by her orientation as a political Zionist, her ethical framework as a Conservative Jew, and her identity as a Left feminist. More than any formative experience, her early legal career foreshadowed later actions as a feminist legislator committed to human rights, government transparency, and privacy rights. For more information see http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/abzug