WASHINGTON, D.C., June 21, 2012 – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is proud to announce that Congressman John Lewis will serve as Grand Marshal of the organization’s 50th Anniversary Campaign and National Advisory Commission.
“We are delighted and honored to have John Lewis as Grand Marshal for our 50th anniversary,” said Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Barbara Arnwine. “His historic leadership in the civil rights movement and lifelong commitment to human rights, equality, and civil liberties continues to be instrumental in the pursuit of racial justice and equality. With amazing dedication, he has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States.”
Since 1986, Lewis has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District and recently published a new book entitled Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change (2012). He has championed legislation and initiatives central to voting rights, equal employment and workers’ rights, education, housing and foreclosure, LGBT rights, and more.
“I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to serve as Grand Marshal of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s 50th anniversary,” said Representative Lewis. “This historic organization has been ‘Moving America Toward Justice’ by consistently and persistently confronting injustice and inequality that still plagues this nation.
The Lawyers’ Committee is creatively addressing the problems of our time. They do not hesitate to ‘get in the way’ to demand that this democracy respect the dignity and the worth of every human being, especially those who are locked out and left behind.”
Over the past 50 years, America has made substantial strides in achieving racial justice and equal opportunity, yet significant barriers remain which must continue to be addressed. The Lawyers’ Committee plans to honor that progress and celebrate the dynamic history of the Committee in working to help realize a society unhampered by discrimination.
Simultaneously, the Committee endeavors to look toward the future by engaging and increasing civil rights activism in new generations, particularly within the legal community, in the ongoing struggle for all racial, social, and economic justice.
The Lawyers’ Committee’s 50th Anniversary Campaign officially kicks off today, June 21, 2012, exactly one year leading up to the organization’s 50th anniversary founding date of June 21, 2013. Commemorative 50th anniversary events will be held now throughout 2013, such as the annual A. Leon Higginbotham Corporate Leadership Award Gala, which recognizes corporations for advancement of diversity and equality in the workplace. Congressman Lewis will work closely with the Committee in the development and execution of the gala, a major legal symposium and other events.
“Nearly 50 years ago President John F. Kennedy met with 244 leading American lawyers in the East Room of the White House to consider what role lawyers could and should play in the civil rights crisis,”
Civil Rights Trailblazer Congressman John Lewis Announced as Grand Marshal of the Lawyers’ Committee 50th Anniversary Campaign and National Advisory Commission added Ms. Arnwine. “People all across the nation were shaken by the media coverage of the protracted confrontation in Birmingham, Alabama, where peaceful protesters, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were repeatedly attacked by police using batons, hoses and even dogs.
Shocking too was the spectacle of Governor George Wallace defiantly resisting a federal court order to admit black students to the University of Alabama, and the decision by the president and the attorney general to deploy the U.S. Army to enforce the order and the law. And certainly the tragic assassination of Medgar Evers on June 12, 1963, just hours following President Kennedy’s nationally televised civil rights speech, distraught many.”
Due to the silence of the private bar, Bernard Segal, chairman of the firm now known as Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis and co-founding chair of the Lawyers’ Committee, placed an ad in the Birmingham paper signed by other lawyers, decrying the defiance of the law by elected officials and calling instead for strong adherence to the rule of law. This ad grabbed the attention of the attorney general and led him to persuade President Kennedy to issue a “Call to the Bar” for the now famous meeting on June 21, 1963.
During the meeting, President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy pointed to recent events in Birmingham and elsewhere as symptoms of a deepening crisis. They recognized that because our constitutional system and the rule of law depends on peaceful obedience to court orders, official resistance requiring enforcement by armed force could lead to anarchy.
It was clear, they emphasized, that justifiable demands by blacks for equal access to public facilities, job opportunities, voting rights and other fundamental citizenship rights could no longer be denied.
Citing the unique role of lawyers within our constitutional system and the rule of law, the president, vice president and attorney general appealed to the assembled attorneys to mobilize the legal profession to support black Americans in their struggle for justice.
As a result of the meeting, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law was formed with the specific task of marshaling the resources of the private bar in the fight for racial equality. Its members included former attorneys general, former presidents of the American Bar Association and local bar leaders from around the country.
No longer would the legal profession hold itself apart from the civil rights struggle. Immediately the Committee began to issue public statements calling for peaceful compliance with court orders and voluntary desegregation of public facilities.
In addition, the Committee sent volunteer lawyers to Mississippi to represent ministers who had engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations and had been charged with crimes. In June of 1965 the Committee opened an office in Jackson, Mississippi which in its two decades of fearless advocacy contributed to the desegregation and transformation of that state including the election of its first African American congressman.
Now, almost a half century later since the founding of the Lawyers’ Committee, after thousands of cases and public policy advocacy advancing racial equality for millions of clients, the organization continues to work with a significant network of legal volunteers to fight for racial equality and justice in the areas of employment discrimination, fair housing and lending, educational opportunities, voting rights, environmental justice and community development.
The modern context of this fight is more nuanced, more multicultural in perspective, but is still powerfully urgent as racial exclusion results in the denial for way too many to participate equally in the fulfillment of the American dream.
With great pride and gratitude the organization looks back across the history of the Lawyers’ Committee and recognizes the impact of so many who have answered the call. And it is with a sense of undiminished resolve and purpose that the Lawyers’ Committee will continue to engage legal professionals, along with society- at-large, in the struggle for racial justice and equal opportunity for all.
See Video of Rep. Lewis’ reflecting on his service as grand marshal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TPuBlXxS3A&feature=player_embedded
About the Lawyers’ Committee
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and fair lending, community development, employment discrimination, voting, education and environmental justice.
For more information about the LCCRUL, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.
Stacie B. Royster