Civil rights attorney William Taylor, an avid supporter of education and social equality, died June 28 in Bethesda, Md. He was 78.

Taylor’s career, which spanned more than four decades, began in 1954 when he worked as a lawyer on the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. NAACP President Todd Benjamin Jealous labeled the attorney a “staunch advocate for educational equity” in a statement citing Taylor’s role in the organization’s history and America’s education system.

“His contributions to the desegregation of our nation’s education system were unparalleled and invaluable,” Jealous said. “We will miss him.”

After working with the famed civil rights group, Taylor served as general counsel and later staff director of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. His research with the commission helped create several civil rights laws enacted in the ‘60s.

“His steadfast commitment to the enforcement of civil rights was demonstrated by his influence in the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 1982, the passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, among others,” NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton said. “His legacy will live on through the landmark legislation and legal battles he so effectively waged and won on behalf of children of all races and ethnicities nationwide.”

The Brooklyn. N.Y.-born son of Lithuanian immigrants, Taylor’s passion for social justice led him to create the Center for National Policy, a civil rights research and advocacy organization. He worked as the organization’s director for 16 years.

Meanwhile, Taylor played a pivotal role in the court battles over school desegregation and wrote the Supreme Court brief in the 1958 case of Cooper v. Aaron, which desegregated the Little Rock, Ark., school district.

In a statement, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan lauded Taylor’s contributions to the American school system.

“I am deeply saddened by the death of Bill Taylor. He dedicated his career to ensuring that poor and minority children had access to a high quality education,” said Duncan. “Whether he was in the courtroom, the halls of government, or in a congressional hearing room, Bill Taylor was a consistent voice for equality and justice—a voice that will be deeply missed.”