April 19, 2016

ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice marks 50th anniversary by honoring trailblazers

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2016 — The American Bar Association Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice has selected six civil rights leaders, including U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and children’s rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman, to receive its inaugural Civil Rights Hero Award during a reception on April 21, at 5:30 p.m. at the American University Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Section and the creation of the Office for Civil Rights–– a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Justice–– tasked with ensuring compliance with federal civil rights laws; including the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 that promoted equality in all federally funded programs and activities, and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

The award, which recognizes an individual or group whose sustained commitment to civil rights and social justice has advanced the ABA’s mission of providing leadership to the legal profession in protecting and advancing human rights, civil liberties, and social justice will be presented at the Civil Rights Hero Award Reception during the Section’s National 50th Anniversary Celebration.

The award recipients are:

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, was nominated to the position in 2013 by President Barack Obama, who cited a long history of Perez’s standing for civil rights and public service.  Perez served on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland where he pushed to reform predatory lending practices in the area, improve access to local health care systems, and ensure fair policing practices. As Maryland Secretary of Labor under Gov. Martin O’Malley, Perez worked to ensure workplace fairness and union rights. In 2009, President Obama appointed Perez as assistant attorney general for Civil Rights. In that role, Perez worked to ensure the voting rights of all Americans and fought against police brutality and unlawful profiling of racial minorities. He also fought for fair treatment of LGBT students, ensuring that all students, regardless of orientation or gender, were free from discrimination at school.

Vivian Malone Jones, being honored posthumously, was one of the first two African-American students to enroll at the University of Alabama in 1963, and the university's first African-American graduate. In June of 1963, Jones arrived on Alabama’s campus, where Gov. George Wallace stood in the door to block her entrance until federal troops enforced her admission into the school.  Jones later joined the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and served as a research analyst. She was appointed to a position as the executive director of the Voter Education Project. She later became the director of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Director of Environmental Justice for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. After years of public service and multiple awards for her pioneering role in the Civil Rights Movement, Jones died at age 63 in 2005.

Esther Lardent, being honored posthumously, founded the Washington, D.C.-based Pro Bono Institute in 1996 to advocate for and provide resources to those seeking to assist individuals who had limited access to the legal system. As president and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute, Lardent worked to identify resources and approaches for the provision of legal services to the poor, disadvantaged, and those otherwise unable to secure legal counsel. She also served in the ABA's House of Delegates and as chair or member of numerous ABA committees and task forces, including the Commission on Immigration, Consortium on Legal Services and the Public, Commission on Domestic Violence, Task Force on Terrorism, and various ABA committees on pro bono and legal services. Known as “the Queen of Pro Bono,” Lardent died of cancer on April 4 of this year.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, was the first African-American woman admitted to The Mississippi Bar. She began practicing law with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund's Mississippi office, working on racial justice issues connected with the Civil Rights Movement. In 1968, Edelman moved to Washington, D.C., where she continued her work for civil rights through various organizations, including the Poor People’s Campaign of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1973, Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund, an advocacy group focused on the welfare of children, particularly poor children, children of color, and children with disabilities. The organization has served as the nation’s premier research and advocacy center for children’s issues, breaking down barriers to children’s welfare and success through numerous programs and initiatives. In 2000, Edelman was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her continued commitment to children’s welfare and civil rights.

Karen K. Narasaki, is a civil and human rights leader appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as commissioner to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in July 2014.  Narasaki is the chair of the Asian American Diversity Advisory Council for Comcast/NBCU and co-chair of the Asian American Advisory Council for Nielsen. She is the immediate past president and executive director of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice.  Prior to AAJC, she was the Washington Representative for the Japanese American Citizens League and an attorney with Perkins Coie. Narasaki has served as vice chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Chair of the Rights Working Group. She was a board member for Common Cause, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Independent Sector, the National Adult Literacy Commission, National Immigration Law Center, and the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Marcia Greenberger, founded the National Women’s Law Center in 1972, focusing on workplace equality, economic security, and health care rights for women. Among her many accomplishments, Greenberger spearheaded major strides to ensure a higher minimum wage, the protection of women and minorities from workplace discrimination, and ensuring equal pay for equal work. Greenberger also has been a key defender of Title IX and its implementation in schools across the country, ensuring fair and equal treatment for students in the U.S. She is a past recipient of the ABA’s Margaret Brent Award and the National Association of Women Lawyers’ Arabella Babb Mansfield Award. She currently serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Mark D. Agrast, executive director and executive vice president of the American Society of International Law, served as deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legislative Affairs from 2009 to 2014. Prior to joining the Justice Department, Agrast was a senior vice president and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and held senior staff positions with the U.S. House of Representatives. Agrast is chair of the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, and has served in numerous leadership capacities at the ABA, including being member of the Board of Governors and its Executive Committee, as a longtime member of the ABA House of Delegates, and past chair of the Commission on Immigration and the Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice. He serves on the Council of the ABA Section of International Law and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Washington Foreign Law Society. Agrast co-chaired the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (now the National LGBT Bar) and served as that organization's ABA Delegate. He is a member of the American Law Institute and a life fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

The ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice provides leadership within the legal profession in protecting and advancing human rights, civil liberties and social justice. Representing nearly 10,000 members with a wide range of professional interests, the section keeps its members abreast of complex civil rights and civil liberties issues and ensures that the protection of individual rights remain a focus of legal and policy discussion.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. To review our privacy statement, click here. Follow the latest ABA news at www.ambar.org/news and on Twitter @ABANews.