Archive for May 2007

How I First Found the National Lawyers Guild

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

1965:  How I First Found the Guild

by Michael Steven Smith

The Guild in the early sixties was not so easy to find, especially if you were from Wisconsin.  The culture of the Witchhunt still prevailed.  I had come east to New York and was in NYU Law School in l964 and was one to two radicals in the freshman class.  The other had been a founder of SDS at Ann Arbor.

The Guild in the early sixties was bowed, but unbroken.  It fought successfully to not be placed on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations.  It had a chapter in New York City, but zero presence at NYU as far as we knew of.  It took my transfering out of NYU to the law school at The University of Wisconsin to make the connection.  It was fortuitious, as I suspect most additions to the NLG’s ranks were in those days before the broad student radicalization which was to come around l968, four years later.

NYU law cost $5,300 a year and I ran out of money, or more precisely, my parents and I ran out of money.  They had two other children in college at the time.  I had grown up in Fox Point, a small Republican village north of Milwaukee and had set my hopes on escaping.  I went to the University of Wisconsin as an undergrad and now found myself dissappointedly back there, this time in their law school, which charged $100 a semester in tuition.  I was able to work for my room and board.

But Wisconsin had a deservely progressive reputation and it was there at the law school that I met Karen Mills, who would be my connection to the Guild.  She was a red diaper baby from Great Neck, via Brooklyn Heights.  Her dad Saul Mills was an historical figure, I later learned.  He had been a reporter for The Brooklyn Eagle and an organizer of The Newspaper Guild before becoming secretary to John L. Lewis, the head of the militant United Mine Wokers and the newly formed C.I.O.

Saul Mills needed legal help and he got it from two young lawyers with whom he would become friends and who had recently started up a new firm.  They were Leonard Boudin and Victor Rabinowitz.  The firm, Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Standard, would become the great fighting leftist firm for the next generation.

Meanwhile, my new friend Karen was friends with Joannie Rabinowitz, Victor’s daughter.  They had gone to Antioch College, another progressive place,  and Joannie came out to Madison to (more…)