Morris B. Abram

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Morris Berthold Abram
Morris Abram circa 1969
Born(1918-06-19)June 19, 1918
Fitzgerald, Georgia, US
DiedMarch 16, 2000(2000-03-16) (aged 81)
Geneva, Switzerland
OccupationLawyer, civil rights activist, United Nations Representative, University President
Known forCivil rights efforts; presidency of Brandeis University; work as representative to European Office of the United Nations; chairing philanthropic, political, and arts organizations
Spouse(s)Jane Isabella Maguire (1944–1974)
Carlyn Fisher (1975–1987)
Bruna Molina (1990–2000) (his death)

Morris Berthold Abram (June 19, 1918 – March 16, 2000) was an American lawyer, civil rights activist, and for two years president of Brandeis University. In 1953 he successfully sought the Democratic nomination for Congress from the Fifth District in Georgia, urging the desegregation of schools but lost the election in 1954. He may be best remembered as a civil rights attorney who successfully waged a fourteen year struggle from 1949–63 to end a Georgia electoral rule that gave disproportionate weight in primary elections to vote counts in white rural areas at the expense of those cast by urban blacks. When the rule was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1963, he briefed Attorney General Robert Kennedy who argued the case.

The Supreme Court found "within a given constituency there can be room for but one constitutional rule – one voter, one vote."


Early life and career[edit]

Abram was born into a Jewish family, the son of Sam Abram, a Romanian immigrant who came to America in 1904. Morris Abrams' mother, Irene Cohen was born into a German Jewish family that first settled in Philadelphia in 1848.[1] He grew up in the small town of Fitzgerald, Georgia and attended the University of Georgia, where he excelled academically. At UGA, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society and graduated according to one source with the highest grade-point average in the school's history. Abram then earned a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. Although he was forced to forgo a Rhodes scholarship because of the Second World War, he later earned a master's degree from Oxford University.[2][3]

Wartime service[edit]

After graduation from the University of Chicago Law School, Abram served as an Army Air Corp Public Relations Officer in the second World War.

Work at the Nuremberg trials and drafting the Fourth Geneva Convention[edit]

While at Oxford, a professor arranged for Abram to join the staff of prosecutors at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Around 1949, he was involved in the drafting of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a document which dealt primarily with humanitarian protections for civilians in a war zone. He later received criticism primarily from Palestinian representatives for a statement he made during that period that did not focus on the plight of displaced Palestinians and the existence of Israeli settlements in what they deemed occupied territories during the first year of Israel's statehood.[4]

Work for Jewish causes and legal work on behalf of nursing homes[edit]

Abram was deeply affected by the Holocaust and later became an ardent supporter of Jewish causes.

Before moving to New York, and while working in Georgia during his civil rights career, he negotiated the release of Dr. Martin Luther King from a Fulton County Georgia jail. [3]

In 1975, Abram led the Moreland Act Commission, which investigated corruption in New York's nursing home industry. The commission's recommendations led to several changes, among them the closing of 68 nursing homes that failed to comply with existing fire-safety codes.

He was national president of the American Jewish Committee from 1963 to 1968; chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry from 1983 to 1988; and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations from 1986 to 1989.

High level positions held[edit]

In his long and distinguished legal career, Abram held a variety of high level positions. In 1961 he was appointed by President Kennedy to chief counsel of the Peace Corps. He also worked as a partner at the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison from 1963–8. He then worked as President of Brandeis University from 1968–1970.[5] In 1969, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[6] He served as chairman of the President Carter's Commission on the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research. In New York, he chaired the Governor's Commission on Nursing Home Practices.[7]

In 1983, he was nominated to the United States Commission on Civil Rights by Ronald Reagan. By that time, he was a vocal opponent of affirmative action and busing which made him a fit for Reagan, but an instant opponent of many more liberal civil rights advocates.[8]

From 1970 to 1979 he served as Chairman of the United Negro College Fund, an organization which raises money predominantly for Black colleges and universities.[9]

Work as representative to the UN European Office, 1989–93[edit]

President George H. W. Bush appointed Abram as the Representative of the United States to the European Office of the United Nations and he served in that office from 1989–93.[10] In 1990, he served as the US Representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights. He took criticism primarily for siding with America's solitary veto of the 1986 UN Resolution to the Right to development of countries, when he stated that the right to development was an "empty vessel" and would be "a dangerous incitement". America's veto of the resolution may have been related to the nature of their economic, political, and military involvement with developing countries particularly in Africa and the Middle East during the Reagan and George H. Bush administrations.

Work as founder of UN Watch, 1993[edit]

In 1993 he founded UN Watch while he was Honorary President of the American Jewish Committee.[11] UN Watch has been active in combating human rights abuses in Democratic Republic of the Congo and Darfur, and has been vocal against abuses in regimes such as China, Venezuela, Cuba and Russia. The group was praised by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the Director General of the UN Office in Geneva Sergei Ordzhonikidze noted "the valuable work of UN Watch in support of the just application of values and principles of the United Nations Charter and support for human rights for all."[12][13][14][15]

While working for UN Watch, Abram noted in 1996 that Israel was the only country in the UN excluded from membership in a geopolitical grouping or states groups which made it ineligible to serve on the Security Council, the Human Rights commission, and a large number of other bodies. These exclusions, Abrams believed "made it easier for Israel's enemies to proactively cultivate international hostility toward Israel at the General Assembly". Abram pushed for Israel's membership in the Western European or other states groups as the "only reasonable way to remedy this ongoing illegal discrimination against Israel". Abram was concerned during this period there were 19 United Nations resolutions that castigated Israel.[16]

Later life and surviving illness[edit]

After being diagnosed with a thought-to-be-fatal form of leukemia in 1973 but overcoming it, Abram published a memoir in 1982 titled The Day is Short.[1] Into the late 70s he continued to battle leukemia with painful chemotherapy, a variety of anti-leukemia drugs, and injections of treated leukemic cells. Remarkably, he survived the illness and lived a vibrant life until dying of a viral infection on March 15, 2000 in Geneva at the age of 80.[17][18]

Personal life[edit]

He had three marriages, his first to his wife Jane from 1944–74, with whom had five children, Ruth, Annie, Morris, Adam, and Joshua, and nine grandchildren He married again from 1975 to 1987 to Carlyn Fisher, and for his remaining life to Bruna Molina.


  1. ^ a b Morris Berthold Abram: New York Times Article
  2. ^ brandeis university: Past presidents page
  3. ^ a b Herkowitz, Linda, The Philadelphia Enquirer, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pg. 47, 14 August 1982
  4. ^ The Settlements Issue: Distorting the Geneva Convention and the Oslo Accords
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
  7. ^ Gralnick, William A., "Extraordinary Life Fits Morris Abram for a Seat on Federal Civil Rights Panel", Miami, Florida, pg. 11, 27 June 1983
  8. ^ "Morris Abram Is Dead at 81". New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  9. ^ "Morris Abram Is Dead at 81". New York Times. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Representatives of the U.S.A. to the European Office of the United Nations (Geneva)". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  11. ^ "UN Watch, AJC Seal Partnership". CharityWire. Archived from the original on 12 October 2013. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  12. ^ "Pro-Israel Activists Set To Do Battle At Durban II". Jewish Times. 18 April 2009. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  13. ^ "U.N. rights chief praises Durban II". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 8 September 2008. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  14. ^ "UN Watch, AJC Seal Partnership". Archived from the original on 26 October 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  15. ^ "''Central Tibetan Administration'': UN Watch urges UN to discuss human rights violations in Tibet". Archived from the original on 25 October 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  16. ^ Mann, Cynthia, "Israel at the United Nations: Two Steps Forward, One Back", St. Louis Jewish Light, St. Louis, Missouri, pg. 2, 10 April 1996
  17. ^ Gupte, Pranay, "There's Hope for Leukemia Patients", Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Florida, pg. 38, 16 August 1977
  18. ^ Honan, William (March 17, 2000). "Morris Abram is Dead at 81. Rights Advocate Led Brandeis". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-21. Morris B. Abram, a small-town boy from Georgia who went on to play a role in the civil rights movement, become a leader of the American Jewish community, serve as president of Brandeis University and fill posts on a variety of commissions and panels under five presidents, died yesterday at a hospital in Geneva. He was 81. The cause was a sudden viral infection, said Pranay Gupte, a family friend.

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