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Encyclopedia > NAACP Legal Defense Fund

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (NAACP LDF or simply LDF) is a leading United States civil rights organization. It was founded in 1940 under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall as part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and spun out as a separate organization in 1957.

While primarily focused on the civil rights of African-Americans in the U.S., they claim to have "been instrumental in the formation of similar organizations serving other minority constituencies in the United States," and to have "been involved in the global campaign for human rights by assisting in the creation of public interest legal organizations in South Africa, Canada and Brazil. "

Their national office is in New York City with regional offices in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, California. They claim "nearly two dozen staff lawyers" and "hundreds of cooperating attorneys across the nation." According to their website, they have "more than 100 cases on [their] docket" and have "been involved in more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than any organization except the U.S. Department of Justice." [1] (http://www.naacpldf.org/content.aspx?article=292)

Areas of activity:

  • Litigation
  • Advocacy
  • Educational outreach
  • Policy research and monitoring legislation
  • Coalition-building
  • Provides scholarships for exceptional African-American students.

Areas of concern:



Probably the most famous case in the history of the LDF was Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case in which the United States Supreme Court explicitly outlawed de jure racial segregation of public education facilities. During the civil rights protests of the 1960s, LDF represented and provided counsel for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among others.

During the Mississippi Freedom Summer LDF’s Jackson, Mississippi office, headed by Marian Wright Edelman, handled more than 120 cases.

Prominent cases


  • 1938: Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada invalidated state laws that refused African-American students access to all-white state graduate schools when no separate state graduate schools were available for African-Americans. (Handled by Thurgood Marshall for the NAACP before the formal foundation of LDF.)
  • 1940: Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk, a federal court order that African-American public school teachers be paid equal salaries regardless of race.
  • 1940: Chambers v. Florida overturned the convictions — based on coerced confessions — of four young black defendants accused of murdering an elderly white man.
  • 1946: Morgan v. Virginia desegregated seating on interstate buses.
  • 1947: Patton v. Mississippi ruled against strategies that excluded African-Americans from criminal juries.
  • 1948: Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Regents reaffirmed and extended Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, ruling that Oklahoma could not bar an African-American student from its all-white law school on the ground that she had not requested the state to provide a separate law school for black students.


  • 1950: McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents ruled against practices of segregation within a formerly all-white graduate school insofar as they interfered with meaningful classroom instruction and interaction with other students.
  • 1950: Sweatt v. Painter ruled against a Texas attempt to circumvent Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada with a hastily-established inferior law school for black students.
  • 1953: Barrows v. Jackson reaffirmed Shelley v. Kraemer, preventing state courts from enforcing restrictive covenants.
  • 1957: Fikes v. Alabama was a further ruling against forced confessions.


  • 1963: Watson v. City of Memphis overruled segregation of public parks.
  • 1963: Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital overruled segregation of hospitals that received federal construction funds.
  • 1964: Willis v. Pickrick Restaurant required Lester Maddox to integrate his restaurant; he closed it instead.
  • 1964: McLaughlin v. Florida ruled against anti-miscegenation laws.
  • 1965: Williams v. Wallace was a federal court order allowing a voting-rights march in Alabama, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which had previously been stopped twice by state police.
  • 1965: Hamm v. City of Rock Hill overturned the all convictions of demonstrators for participating in civil rights sit-ins.
  • 1967: Quarles v. Philip Morris overturned the practice of "departmental seniority", which had forced non-white workers to give up their seniority rights when they transferred to better jobs in previously white-only departments.
  • 1967: Green v. County School Board of New Kent County ruled that "freedom of choice" was an insufficient response to segregated schools.
  • 1969: Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education ruled that a Mississippi school district's foot-dragging with respect to desegregation violated the "all deliberate speed" mandate of Brown v. Board of Education.
  • 1969: Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham ruled against using the parade permitting process as a means of suppressing First Amendment rights.
  • 1969: Allen v. State Board of Elections guaranteed the right to a write-in vote.


  • 1970: Ali v. The Division of State Athletic Commission restored Muhammed Ali's boxing license.
  • 1970: Carter v. Jury Commission approved federal suits over discrimination in the selection of juries.
  • 1971: Kennedy-Park Homes Association v. City of Lackawanna forbade a city government from intefering in the construction of low-income housing in a predominantly white section of the city.
  • 1971: Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education upheld forced busing to desegregate public schools. However, this matter would continue in the courts for three more decades; in the most recent as of 2004 related cases, the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2002 refused to review Cappachione v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education and Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, in which lower courts had ruled in favor of the school disctrict.
  • 1971: Haines v. Kerner upheld the right of prisoners to challenge prison conditions in federal court.
  • 1971: Groppi v. Wisconsin upheld the right of a criminal defendant in a misdemeanor case to a venue where jurors are not biased against him.
  • 1971: Clay v. United States struck down Muhammed Ali's conviction for refusing to report for military service.
  • 1971: Griggs v. Duke Power Company ruled that tests for employment or promotion that produce different outcomes for blacks and whites are prima facie to be presumed discriminatory, and must measure aptitude for the job in question or they cannot be used.
  • 1971: Phillips v. Martin Marietta ruled that employers may not refuse to hire women with preschool-aged children unless the same standards are applied to men.
  • 1972: Furman v. Georgia ruled that the death penalty as then applied in 37 states violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment because there are inadequate standards to guide judges and juries making the decision which defendants will receive a sentence of death. However, under revised laws, U.S. executions resumed in 1977.
  • 1972: Alexander v. Louisiana accepted the use of statistical evidence to prove racial discrimination in the selection of juries.
  • 1972: Hawkins v. Town of Shaw banned discrimination in the provision of municipal facilities.
  • 1973: Norwood v. Harrison banned government provision of school books to segregated private schools established to allow whites to avoid public school desegregation.
  • 1973: Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver addressed deliberate de facto school segregation, ruling that where deliberate segregation was shown to have affected a substantial part of a school system, the entire district must ordinarily be desegregated.
  • 1973: Adams v. Richardson required federal education officials to enforce Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires that state universities, public schools, and other institutions that receive federal money may not discriminate by race.
  • 1973: Ham v. South Carolina ruled that defendants are entitled to have potential jurors interrogated about whether they harbor racial prejudices.
  • 1973: McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green ruled that courts should hear cases of alleged unlawful discrimination based on the "minimal showing" that a qualified non-white applied unsuccessfully for a job that either remained open or was filled by a white person.
  • 1973: Mourning v. Family Publication Service upheld the Truth in Lending Act, requiring disclosure of the actual cost of a loan.
  • 1975: Albemarle v. Moody mandated back pay for victims of job discrimination.
  • 1977: Coker v. Georgia banned capital punishment for rape, the most racially disproportionate application of the death penalty.
  • 1977: United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburgh v. Carey provided that states may consider race in drawing electoral districts if necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act by avoiding a dilution of minority voting strength.


  • 1980: Luevano v. Campbell struck down federal government use of a written test for hiring into nearly 200 entry level positions because the test disproportionately disqualified African-Americans and Latinos.
  • 1980: Enmund v. Florida struck down a federal "felony murder" statute.
  • 1983: Major v. Treen overturned a Louisiana gerrymander intended to reduce African-American voting strength.
  • 1984: Gingles v. Edmisten, continued as Thornburg v. Gingles (1986) A North Carolina state court, later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Coutr, ruled that at-large countywide election of state legislators illegally diluted black voting strength.
  • 1988: Jiggets v. Housing Authority of City of Elizabeth: a district court ordered the HUD to spend $4 million to upgrade predominantly black, as well as predominantly white, housing projects in the city, and to implement federal maintenance, tenant selection and other procedures equitably.
  • 1989: Cook v. Ochsner: in a belated coda to Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital, a district court approved a settlement ending a New Orleans hospital's discrimination in emergency room treatment and patient admissions. The settlement also provided increased opportunities for African-American physicians to practice at the hospital.


  • 1991: Chisom v. Roemer and Houston Lawyers Association v. Attorney General established that Voting Rights Act applies to the election of judges.
  • 1992: Matthews v. Coye and Thompson v. Raiford compelled California and Texas, respectively, to enforce and implement federal regulations calling for testing of poor children for lead poisoning.
  • 1993: Haynes v. Shoney's: A record court-approved settlement in an employment discrimination case. Shoney's Restaurants agreed to pay African-American employees $105 million and to implement aggressive equal employment opportunity measures.
  • 1994: Lawson v. City of Los Angeles and Silva v. City of Los Angeles led to settlements to end discriminatory use of police dogs in minority neighborhoods.
  • 1995: McKennon v. Nashville Banner: The Supreme Court refused to allow employers to defeat otherwise valid claims of job discrimination by relying on facts they did not know until after the discriminatory decision had been made.
  • 1996: Sheff v. O'Neill: The Supreme Court of Connecticut, in view of the disparities between Hartford public schools and schools in the surrounding counties, found the state liable for maintaining racial and ethnic isolation, and ordered the legislative and executive branches to propose a remedy.
  • 1997: Robinson v. Shell Oil Company determined that a former employee may sue his ex-employer for retaliating against him (by giving a bad job reference) after he filed discrimination charges over his termination.
  • 1998: Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp. determined that a general arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement did not deprive an employee of his right to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws in federal court.


  • 2000: Rideau v. Louisiana threw out the 28-year-old, third conviction of Wilbert Rideau for murder because of discrimination in the composition of the grand jury that originally indicted him more than 40 years earlier (As of 2004 he is still facing a fourth trial).
  • 2000: Smith v. United States was resolved when President Clinton commuted the sentence of Kemba Smith, a young African-American mother whose abusive, domineering boyfriend led her to play a minor role in a conspiracy to obtain and distribute crack cocaine. She had been sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 24 years in prison even though she was a first-time offender.
  • 2000: Cromartie v. Hunt and Daly v. Hunt said that it is legal to create, for partisan political reasons, a district with a high concentration of minority voters; hence the North Carolina district from which Mel Watt was elected to the House of Representatives was ruled not to be an illegal gerrymander.
  • 2003: Gratz v. Bollinger In a defeat for the LDF, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court's rejection of a white student's challenge to undergraduate admissions procedures at the University of Michigan, which took race into account in order to admit a diverse entering class of students.

External link

  • Official site (http://www.naacpldf.org/); in particular, the Flash-based timeline (http://www.naacpldf.org/timeline.aspx) provides a history of the major cases taken on by the LDF. We have taken extensive portions of this page with the permission of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the copyright holder of that material.

  Results from FactBites:
NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Urges Further Investigation of Texas Execution (990 words)
A recent op-ed by Theodore Shaw, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, urged a full and fair investigation into the case of Ruben Cantu, a Texas man who may have been innocent of the murder for which he was executed in 1993.
After the Tulia cases, the Legal Defense Fund undertook an investigation into the possibility that Ruben Cantu, who was sentenced to death in San Antonio in 1984, was innocent of the murder for which he was executed in 1993.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is opposed to capital punishment.
  More results at FactBites »



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