Jack Greenberg was an attorney who was at the center of the civil rights movement and argued over 40 civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Greenberg, a longtime director of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, was the last surviving attorney to work on the landmark 1954 “Brown v. Board of Education” case.
Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. December 22, 1924. The World War II veteran fought in the Navy, and was reportedly horrified by the racial injustices suffered by his fellow Black soldiers. After leaving the Navy, Greenberg entered New York’s Columbia College to study law.
In the late ’40’s, he became the LDF’s lone white counselor but quickly earned the respect of his peers, most especially director Thurgood Marshall. Marshall appointed Greenberg to the Brown case, which successfully eradicated school segregation and remains one of the brightest civil rights moments in history.
When Marshall was appointed to the High Court’s bench, Greenberg was selected to run the LDF. From 1961 to 1984, Greenberg presided over the civil rights organization’s law firm and also served as a dean at his alma mater. The Columbia Law School graduate was an esteemed professor and lecturer at the school while still serving the NAACP.
In 1963, Greenberg represented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was jailed in Birmingham, Ala. for protesting in the region. Although many people of Jewish descent joined the movement, Greenberg was a prominent figure in attempting to bridge the racial divide between Blacks and Jews.
In 1982, The Harvard Black Law Students Association called for a boycott of a civil rights course to be taught by Greenberg and Black lawyer Julius Chambers. Many influential civil rights figures came to Greenberg’s aid in the matter, including Bayard Rustin, among several others.
Greenberg has been awarded countless times over the course of his career, including in 2001 when he was given the President’s Citizen Medal by President Bill Clinton. In 1996, Greenberg was given the Thurgood Marshall Award by the American Bar Association.
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