FOLCS acknowledges the death of one of our former Film Series guests, the legendary civil rights attorney, Jack Greenberg, who passed away on October 12, 2016, at age 91. Greenberg argued 40 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education.
Greenberg was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 22, 1924. His Jewish parents had fled Europe because of anti-Semitism. During the Second World War, he entered the U.S. Navy and fought in Japan.
Greenberg held a B.A. from Columbia College, and an LL.B and an LL.D from Columbia Law School. His strong commitment to the fight against injustice inspired him study the law, and later used it as a tool to advocate for civil rights.
He joined the legal team created by Thurgood Marshall, the founding director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. There, with Robert L. Carter, Constance Baker Motley, Spottswood W. Robinson III, and other lawyers, he fought for voting rights, equal pay work, equal access to medical care and education, and other important landmarks of the civil rights movement. He later succeeded at the director-counsel of the Fund when Marshall became a federal appeals judge in 1961.
He challenged the “separate but equal” standard of racial segregation in the public schools by working on two of the five cases that led to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. He also took part in Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education (equal access to education), Griggs v. Duke Power Company (protection against employment discrimination), Furman v. Georgia (the constitutionality of executions). He was a member of Martin Luther King Jr.’s defense team of after his arrest in 1963 in Birmingham, Ala.
Later, Greenberg advocated for the rights of the poor, against the death penalty, for the rights of women, of Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans, and for LGBT rights.
Greenberg helped found the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. His publications include Crusaders in the Courts: Legal Battles of the Civil Rights Movement (2004); Brown v. Board of Education: Witness to a Landmark Decision (2004); Dean Cuisine: The Liberated Man’s Guide to Fine Cooking (with James Vorenberg, 1991). He was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Clinton in 2001.
Greenberg was a memorable past guest of FOLCS. He joined us during the 2009 Forum Film Festival for a screening of Mississippi Burning and a post-screening discussion on the civil rights movement. We were honored to have him as a guest, and we will continue to celebrate and honor his inspirational life. Our condolences go to Greenberg’s wife, Deborah, to his children, David, Sarah, Ezra, Suzanne, William, and to his grandchildren.