Longtime Westport activist and civil rights advocate Manny Margolis was memorialized last weekend, in a service at the Westport Library.
After many touching tributes from family members, friends and admirers, his wife Estelle spoke eloquently and lovingly.
Three of her stories stand out.
Manny Margolis worked all his life in the law to protect the basic rights guaranteed to us in our constitution.
He took the case of a college student (from Westport) named Timothy Breen, who gave his draft card to Reverend William Sloane Coffin at an anti-war rally during the Vietnam war. Tim had a student deferment, but was immediately reclassified 1-A and told to report to the draft board in Bridgeport for induction into the Army. Manny won his case on the basis of the right of free speech.
A homeless man was arrested for murder in his “home” under the I-95 abutment in New Haven. His clothes were neatly wrapped in a couple of plastic bags. The police went through his bags without a warrant. Manny won his case on the basis of the right to privacy in his “home.”
In the spring of 1982 the Ku Klux Klan applied for a permit to march and rally in Meriden, Connecticut. They were denied. Manny fought for their rights of political speech, and they won the permit. Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson wrote Manny a wonderful letter that said in part:
I would like to thank you for the many hours of hard work on our behalf. Knowing that you almost certainly disagree with my beliefs, makes me even more humble in my thanks. I must admit, I have never had the concern or the rights of those who oppose me that you obviously possess, but you may rest assured that I have been feeling more and more sympathy for them …..my association with you has made me even more aware of the importance of allowing everyone free speech. Your dedication to your principles has truly touched me deeply.
I am not merely writing words on paper in writing this letter. It is coming from deep within me. I know that I will probably die a strong segregationist and anti-communist, but I have no hatred for any individual human being.
Wilkinson called Manny shortly after that letter arrived and said: “I didn’t know you were Jewish when you were defending us in Court! I am going to present a motion to the Board to allow Jews to join our organization!”
Estelle did not mention whether Wilkinson ever followed through. But it’s a story that Manny Margolis’ many, many admirers — everywhere on the political spectrum — could relish.