Civil rights lawyer worked on suit to desegregate school system

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The Indianapolis lawyer who worked on several notable cases in Indianapolis history, including a lawsuit which led to the desegregation of Indianapolis Public Schools, died Dec. 26, 2010.

John Moss Jr., 74, was born in Alabama and grew up during a time in which he witnessed racism as well as several important civil rights cases. His son, John Moss III, said his father decided to become a lawyer at a young age after witnessing police beat a town drunk.

moss Moss Jr.

“Like a lot of African-Americans in his generation growing up in the South, he had lots of reasons to be motivated to pursue a career that was working for justice,” said his son Sean Moss. “He shared with my brothers and I the challenges he had growing up in the segregated South in Alabama.”

Sean said his father was told many times by people in authority in that environment that he would not amount to anything and that he should just be happy to work at some place like the post office.

After graduating from Dillard University in New Orleans, Moss moved to Indianapolis to attend law school at the encouragement of Dr. Joseph T. Taylor, a sociology professor and the first dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. After graduating from Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis in 1961, he taught at what is now Florida State School of Law for a year before moving back to Indianapolis.

He practiced from 1962 until 2005, focusing on discrimination and civil rights law. He formed a collaboration with Mercer Mance and Charles Walton, Mance Moss & Walton, and also practiced as a solo. Two of his sons, John III and Marc Moss, practiced with their father at some point in their careers. John III practiced with him for six years.

John III said his father’s biggest impact was being an advocate for African-Americans, whether it was employment, school issues, or a criminal law case.

“His whole law practice was to help people,” John III said, noting it was never about the money for his father.

Moss filed the class-action lawsuit in 1968 against IPS on behalf of all African-American students to desegregate the schools, which led to the ordering of IPS students to be bused within the district, and eventually to Marion County township schools, to achieve racial balance.

Moss also worked on a class-action lawsuit against Colgate Palmolive Corp. on behalf of all female employees of the company, which led to permanently increasing the salaries of those women and changed how Colgate paid its female employees. Moss also filed a wrongful-death claim on behalf of Michael Taylor’s family in 1989. Two years earlier, Taylor, a teen in custody of the Indianapolis Police Department, was found dead in the back of a police car with a gunshot wound to his head and his hands handcuffed behind his head. IPD argued he shot himself. An all-white jury in Hancock County in 1996 awarded the Taylor family more than $3.5 million, which at the time was the largest judgment awarded against a municipality in Indiana history.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt recalled practicing with and learning from Moss in her first years as a lawyer. He was, she said, a mentor to many.

“I don’t know if Mr. Moss realized the impact that his wisdom, strength, and character had on me and many other lawyers in the Indianapolis legal community,” Judge Pratt said. “He was a champion of civil rights and often preached that in respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law; he truly believed that the humblest and powerless are the peers of the most powerful. He was never afraid to take on the giants on behalf of the little man or woman – that class of people who are often forgotten and those who were the victims of injustice. John Moss leaves behind a legacy that will not be forgotten.”

His son Marc, who worked with his father on some cases, described his father as a trailblazer who created opportunities for lawyers that he didn’t have. He said his father operated his practice with integrity and he became known as a guy who wasn’t going to back down or be intimidated.

Marc said at a young age it became clear to him that people knew who his dad was because of the manner in which he practiced law.

“It’s ironic that when you aren’t concerned about yourself, you’re exalted. People remember you,” he said. “It wasn’t because he made a lot of money or he worked at some big fancy firm. It was because he made a difference. People knew him as a fighter. That was the special thing about him.”

Outside of the law, Moss was active in his church and coached football for about 25 years at an Indianapolis football program, Tabernacle Recreation Program.

Survivors include his wife June; sons Sean, John III, and Marc; and five grandchildren. •


  • Uncle John
    In as much as John Moss's Legacy in the Legal World speaks for itself, John Moss the brother, son, father, husband, friend etc.,most of all Uncle. My experence began in south central Los Angeles, where a 5 or 6 year old boy met an uncle he had never met in person, only by mail. You see it was my birthday and my first letter from the mail. Every year for the next 12 years in mid October that letter came, weather John was emershed in a major civil rights case, raising his own children or doing something that would have world wide implacations, the birthday card came. Might seem like a small thing, however, it was the small things not forgotten that made Uncle John a role Model for me! RIP Uncle John.

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues