Herb Kurz, the founder of Presidential Life Insurance in 1965 and a progressive supporter of civil liberties activism, was born on this date in 1920. Kurz was the key funder of the NYU Tamiment Library’s Frederic Ewen Center, named for his uncle, a Brooklyn College professor who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. The Center houses the papers of the National Lawyers Guild, the law partnership of Leonard Boudin and Victor Rabinowitz, and the long-time editor of Jewish Currents, Morris U. Schappes, among others. Kurz also endowed a chair in constitutional rights in the political science department at Brooklyn College, his alma mater. As a teen, he helped organize a union of hotel and restaurant workers in the Catskill resorts; during World War II, he was a decorated navigator aboard B-26 bombers. After the war, he founded Veterans Against Discrimination, which became an active element within the radical Civil Rights Congress. The insurance company that Kurz founded and directed for forty years practiced affirmative-action hiring for both women and people of color and was honored by President Bill Clinton at the White House Conference on Corporate Citizenship in 1996. In 2012, Presidential was bought by Athene, a Bermuda-based holding company with life insurance interests, in a takeover that Kurz actively opposed.
“At Presidential, I place diversity in the work force as a high priority. I’ve been holding onto a working-class consciousness in the business world.” —Herbert Kurz