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About the 2024 Recipient

Honoring Eva Paterson

Eva Paterson, Co-Founder and President (2000-2022) of the Equal Justice Society, has dedicated her life's work to fighting for racial justice and civil rights. The ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice has selected Eva to receive the 2024 Thurgood Marshall Award to celebrate her long-term contributions to advancing civil rights in the United States. She will receive the award on Saturday, August 3, 2024, during a dinner celebration at the Fairmont Chicago at Millennium Park during the 2024 ABA Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL.

The event will feature virtual remarks from past colleagues and friends of Eva and a special performance from The Coolerators. The Coolerators features eight legal champions for civil rights, including: Eva Paterson on vocals; lawyer Elizabeth Cabraser on drums; former Presidio Trust president and current Fire Commissioner Paula Collins and arbitrator and mediator Cheryl Stevens on vocals; mediator and labor arbitrator Bob Hirsch on guitar; the Honorable Brad Seligman on guitar, harmonica and vocals; USF law professor Bill Hing on bass guitar; and Bill Tamayo on keyboards and accordion.  You will NOT want to miss it!

Sponsorship Opportunities are available at a variety of levels for organizations, firms, corporate entities, and individuals. Sponsorship of the Celebration serves as an essential funding source to sustain the Section's charitable programs.

Individual Tickets are available for purchase for $200 through Annual Meeting Registration. If you’ve already registered, you can still modify your registration and add a ticket to join us! If you would like to attend only the dinner celebration, please purchase your ticket by selecting the single ticket option on our Thurgood Marshall Award donation page and completing this request form

Eva Paterson, 2024 Thurgood Marshall Award Recipient

Eva Paterson, 2024 Thurgood Marshall Award Recipient

Photo Credit: Edwin Tse via The Atlantic

Eva Paterson longtime Co-Founder and former President of the Equal Justice Society, was recently chosen by the CRSJ Selection Committee, chaired by former award recipient Paul M. Smith. Robin Runge, 2023-24 Section Chair, details the reason behind the selection:

Eva has devoted her entire life to fighting for civil rights and social justice, breaking barriers, pushing the legal profession to increase access to justice and address racial inequality. From founding A Safe Place, a battered women's shelter in Oakland which continues to provide legal services to survivors to this day, to serving as the Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights for thirteen years and then going on to found the Equal Justice Society where she continued to lead on efforts to address discrimination and racism. Her unwavering commitment to social Justice and civil rights serves as a model for all of us and makes it utterly clear that she is deserving of the Thurgood Marshall Award.

About the Recipient

Eva Jefferson Paterson co-founded the Equal Justice Society and served as its President from 2000 through August 31, 2022. The Equal Justice Society is a legal organization transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts.

A frequent speaker and commentator on topics such as white supremacy, implicit bias, and affirmative action, Eva’s presentations included appearances before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judicial Conference.

Paterson has received more than 50 awards, including an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Northwestern University, the Fay Stender Award from the California Women Lawyers, Woman of the Year from the Black Leadership Forum, the Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award from the ACLU of Northern California, and the Alumni Award of Merit from Northwestern University where she received her B.A. in political science.

Prior to taking the helm of the Equal Justice Society in 2003, Paterson worked at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for twenty-six years, thirteen of them as Executive Director. Paterson led the organization’s work providing free legal services to low-income individuals, litigating class action civil rights cases, and advocating for social justice.

At the Lawyers’ Committee, she was part of a broad coalition that filed the groundbreaking anti-discrimination suit against race and gender discrimination by the San Francisco Fire Department. That lawsuit successfully desegregated the department, winning new opportunities for women and minority firefighters.

Paterson co-founded and chaired the California Civil Rights Coalition for 18 years, and currently serves as the coalition’s steering committee co-chair. She was a leading spokesperson in the campaigns against Proposition 187 (anti-immigrant) and Proposition 209 (anti-affirmative action) and numerous other statewide campaigns against the death penalty, juvenile incarceration and discrimination against lesbians and gay men. She also served as Vice President of the ACLU National Board for eight years and chaired the boards of Equal Rights Advocates and the San Francisco Bar Association.

Following her graduation from U.C. Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, she worked for the Legal Aid Society of Alameda County and co-founded A Safe Place, a shelter for battered women in Oakland, California.

A self-described beneficiary of affirmative action, Paterson is passionate in support of equal educational opportunities. She co-authored several landmark lawsuits in support of affirmative action: the federal lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 209, the successful litigation against U.C. Berkeley’s admissions policy limiting access to students of color and an amicus brief in Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School.

“Affirmative action gave me an opportunity, but I cracked the books, did the work, and passed the tests,” Paterson says and she did her affirmative action program justice: she has been described by writer Paul Rockwell as “one of California’s most brilliant lawyers,” and was named as one of the top 25 lawyers of 2002 by the San Francisco Chronicle. “By all accounts, Paterson is the civil-rights leader of the Bay Area,” wrote the Chronicle.

Paterson and the Equal Justice Society played a pivotal role in the broad coalition that decisively defeated Ward Connerly’s Proposition 54. The dangerous, divisive measure would have banned the collection of racial and ethnic data by any state agency, thus making it virtually impossible to track and document race discrimination or to bring civil rights suits to court. She was a leading spokesperson for the “No on 54” Campaign.

Paterson has delivered commencement addresses on college campuses across the nation, and she has served as an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and at the University of California Hastings College of Law.

The author of numerous articles, including “Can’t We Get Along?” and “The Future of Affirmative Action” (California Lawyer), “Pro Bono Help for Legal Services Programs” (Clearinghouse Review), and “How the Legal System Responds to Battered Women” (Battered Women), Paterson is often sought out by the media for commentary on racial justice issues.

As a 20-year-old student leader at a time of turmoil, Eva Jefferson Paterson was catapulted into the national spotlight when she debated then-Vice President Spiro Agnew on live television. Dubbed the “peaceful warrior” for fostering non-violent protest in the aftermath of the 1970 shooting of student demonstrators at Kent State University, she was named one of Mademoiselle’s “Ten Young Women of the Year,” featured on the covers of Ebony and Jet, and called to testify before Congress.

Paterson grew up in a military family in France, England, and southern Illinois. In high school, she traveled the state giving Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As a junior at Northwestern University, she became the first African American president of student government.

Credit: Equal Justice Society