Paul O’Dwyer

Civil Rights Champion

Paul O'Dwyer served as John F. Kennedy's state co-chairman in his 1960 election campaign. Here he is pictured with Kennedy at a
Democratic Party dinner in the Bronx.

By Niall O’Dowd
October / November 2000

Since his childhood in Mayo during the worst of the Black and Tan atrocities, Paul O’Dwyer has been a fearless champion of human rights. During the Red Scare and the civil rights movement he stood up for the oppressed regardless of personal cost. He was an early ally of the State of Israel and helped persuade President Truman to recognize this nation’s independence. His law firm O’Dwyer and Bernstien was well-known in New York City for taking more “pro bono” civil rights cases than any other law firm. He also served as city council president in New York City and as New York City commissioner to the United Nations.


I am always affected by what’s happening to people, which is not an ingredient for political success either in that country [Ireland] or in this.

When you take my kind of positions you expect to be defeated much of the time, it’s as simple as that. Yet it is important to continue to fight, to show people that issues will not go away because politicians avoid them.

Many people have misconstrued my beliefs in civil fights as an endorsement of the view of radicals. I think my political views are rather old-fashioned. I take seriously all the provisions of the Constitution, and when the Declaration of Independence speaks of the equality of man I think that Americans should take it literally – that includes all men and women, black and white, Jews and Mormons and Protestants and Catholics and Muslims and whoever.

When I was in my early teens I saw the then totalitarians [the British during the Irish War of Independence] going through a quiet countryside, killing, slaughtering and plundering an innocent people. They didn’t call them Reds and they didn’t call them Nazis; they called them Black and Tans, and they left an impression on me that has lasted all my life. – July / August 1996


Paul O’Dwyer died in June 1998.

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