The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) honored former United States Attorney General Eric Holder for his lifelong efforts to advance civil rights at its 75th Anniversary National Equal Justice Award Dinner (NEJAD) on Nov. 4 in New York.
Holder, who is the first African American to serve as U.S. Attorney General, received the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award for using his tenure at the U.S. Department of Justice to fight against efforts to roll back the Civil Rights Act and to end discriminatory policing practices nationwide. Most notably, Holder has challenged discriminatory voting policies in states with a history of racial injustice and initiated investigations that uncovered major racial disparities in policing in Ferguson and Cleveland.
Since leaving the Department of Justice, Holder returned to Covington and Burling L.L.P. where he worked from 2001 to 2009 as a partner and now runs an Investigations and Litigation practice. He also continues to be a strong critic of racial bias in the criminal justice system.
“There is no one more deserving of the Thurgood Marshall Lifetime Achievement Award at this critical juncture of opportunity and urgency in the pursuit of racial justice than Eric Holder,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “During his tenure as Attorney General, he set the bar for what it means to be the nation’s advocate for all people to ensure their equal place in our democracy.”
In his very short remarks, Holder encouraged everyone in the audience to recommit themselves to fighting for equal justice for all. “Every generation is tested and called upon to make real the promise of our democracy, and so it is for this generation,” Holder said. “With concerted action, perseverance and faith in each other the creation of a beloved community is within our grasp.”
As an ongoing tribute, LDF announced the establishment of the Eric H. Holder Jr. Fellowship with a $100,000 challenge grant from the March Foundation that will be used to help the organization recruit diverse law students who want to confront today’s civil rights challenges.
The 75th Anniversary celebration of the historic civil rights organization also included presentations of the National Equal Justice Award to Atlantic Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation for their generous financial contributions to LDF over the years and their longstanding commitment to racial equality and social justice. Law firms Arent Fox and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson shared special recognition as “Law Firm of the Year.”
LDF’s Associate Director Counsel Janai Nelson summed up the evening like this: “On LDF’s 75th anniversary, we are reminded of both the impossible odds we’ve overcome and the work that remains to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential. LDF is committed to continuing our legacy of leadership, excellence, and courage created by Thurgood Marshall and the army of lawyers who followed in his tradition to bring about radical social change and improve the condition of African Americans in every sphere of life.”