Gus Solomon (1906-1987)

Gus Solomon was born on August 29, 1906 in Portland, OR. His mother was from Russia and his father, who worked in the men’s wear business, was from Romania. He went to Shattuck School and Lincoln and Jefferson High Schools. His family belonged to the Neveh Zedek Talmud Torah Synagogue. He began college at the University of Washington in 1922, and later transferred to Reed College and then to the University of Chicago, where he learned it was impossible for a Jewish student to receive a fellowship in history or many other subjects. He also attended Stanford and Columbia Law Schools. He began to practice law in 1929 at the start of the Great Depression. After being unable to find a job, he opened his own practice with Leo Levenson and Irvin Goodman. He describes himself as a political and economic liberal, operating under the simple belief that everyone is entitled to certain rights regardless of race, religion, or economic status. 

After 1932, Judge Solomon began an unofficial employment agency to help find jobs for young Jewish lawyers, as well as for women and African-Americans. He handled the case of De Jonge v. Oregon, which established the right to hold public meetings. In 1935 he helped organize a chapter of the ACLU in Oregon and became its treasurer. In 1936 he convinced the Oregon State Bar to sponsor a Legal Aid Committee. He handled the case establishing the constitutionality of the Oregon People’s Utilities District Law that helped distribute low-cost hydroelectric power. He also handled the first cases in Oregon under the Minimum Wage Laws for Women and Fair Labor Standards Acts of 1938. After the Second World War he publicly denounced the internment of Japanese Americans and acted as one of the chairmen of the Oregon Committee to Aid Relocation. He helped repeal the law that a person of Asian decent who is not eligible for citizenship cannot own property. He fought against discrimination and antisemitism in his personal life as well as his legal career. He and his wife refused to attend events at private clubs that did not allow Jewish members. He worked to raise awareness of, in his own words “the correlation between economic opportunity and social acceptability.” In 1949 President Harry Truman appointed him a United States District Court Judge. When he was being considered for the position, a former Portland city official went to Washington to tell the president that people in Portland did not want to have a Jew as a Federal Judge. Truman did not listen, and Judge Solomon became the longest-serving Federal Judge in Oregon.

Interview(s):