In 1961, Thurgood Marshall began his career as a judge on the federal court of appeals, and he was replaced as Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) by his assistant, Jack Greenberg, the first white to serve in that capacity.
Jack Greenberg was born on this day in history in Brooklyn, New York. He first joined LDF in 1949 as a 24-year-old Columbia Law School graduate, and spent 23 years at its helm. He was was involved in numerous important cases, including Brown v. Board of Education. In all, he argued forty civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. They included Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education which mandated that segregated school systems desegregate “at once,” Griggs v. Duke Power Company, which prohibited relying on employment and promotion decisions on the results of tests with discriminatory impact, and Meredith v. Fair in 1961, which resulted in James Meredith’s integration of the University of Mississippi.
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Greenberg and LDF to handle all demonstration cases in which the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition was involved. In that role, Greenberg oversaw cases ranging from the elimination of racial restrictions on the use of public parks; to discrimination in health care; to busing as a means to integrate public schools.
Outside of LDF, Greenberg co-founded the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He also was one of the original board members of Human Rights Watch and participated in missions to the Soviet Union, Poland, and apartheid-era South Africa, among other locations.
Greenberg retired from LDF in 1984 and returned to academia, first to Columbia University as an adjunct professor from 1970-84; a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School in 1971; and a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School in 1983, in addition to other positions. He served as Columbia College’s Dean from 1989-93.
At Columbia, Greenberg created the Human Rights Internship Program, which has placed more than 1,500 Columbia Law School students in hundreds of human rights organizations worldwide. Program graduates have been instrumental in drafting the South African Constitution, documenting human rights abuses against gay and lesbian youth in U.S. prisons, and establishing the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, among other initiatives.
Greenberg won many awards for his legal work. In 1996, he received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award for his long-term contributions to the advancement of civil rights, civil liberties, and human rights in the United States. In 2001, President Bill Clinton gave Greenberg the Presidential Citizens Medal to recognize “more than 50 years as a fierce and tireless defender of civil and human rights.” He died on October 12, 2016 at the age of 91. You can read his New York Times obituary here.