NEW YORK (AP) – Will Maslow, a former leader of the American Jewish Congress and a civil rights lawyer noted for his efforts on behalf of minorities, has died at age 99, a director of the organization said Monday.

Maslow died at his Manhattan home on Friday, said Belle Faber, director of development for the AJC.

“He was a towering figure who led a fantastic life,” Faber said.

Maslow, born in Kiev, Russia, on Sept. 23, 1907, moved to the United States in 1911, grew up in Chicago and attended Cornell University despite its restrictive admissions policies, an experience that influenced his commitment to civil rights causes.

While attending Columbia University law school he worked at The New York Times and as a model, and after a brief period in private law he became a counsel for the National Labor Relations Board.

Maslow devoted decades to challenging barriers to the rights of blacks, Jews and other minorities in employment, education and other fields. During World War II he headed a federal committee on employment practices, investigating discrimination in defense contracts.

At the American Jewish Congress, he founded a legal office called the Commission on Law and Social Action, modeled on the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Through Maslow, the AJC became known for an aggressive legal approach, with noteworthy campaigns against a Manhattan university’s restrictive admissions quotas, racial bias at a Manhattan housing complex and job discrimination against blacks at a major Queens retail store.

He filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Little Rock school discrimination case in the 1950s and helped organize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

He was named executive director of the AJC in 1960 and served 12 years in that role, then continued as its general counsel into the 1980s.

In 1966, he quit the Congress of Racial Equality over an anti-Semitic remark by a CORE official.

Maslow, a nephew of Paula Ben-Gurion, wife of Israel’s founding prime minister, was a dedicated Zionist and helped lead the Jewish state’s fight against an Arab boycott in the 1970s.

He is survived by his wife and two daughters. No funeral was planned, but a memorial will be held, Faber said.

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