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Mon, 02.12.1940

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is Formed

*On this date in 1940, we celebrate the founding of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF).  They are a leading United States civil rights organization and law firm based in New York City.  

Created by Charles Hamilton Houston in the 1930s, the organization stems from the legal department of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  In 1940, Thurgood Marshall established LDF as a separate legal entity, and in 1957, the organization became independent of the NAACP.  The board of directors of the NAACP created the Legal Defense Fund in 1940 specifically for tax purposes.  In 1957, intimidated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, and Southern state governments, LDF was completely separated from the NAACP and given its independent board and staff.  

Although LDF was originally meant to operate by NAACP policy, after 1961, serious disputes emerged between the two organizations. These disputes ultimately led the NAACP to create its internal legal department while LDF continued to operate and score significant legal victories as an independent organization.  While primarily focused on the civil rights of Blacks in the U.S., LDF states it has "been instrumental in the formation of similar organizations that have replicated its organizational model in order to promote equality for Asian-Americans, Latinos, and women in the United States." LDF has also been involved in "the campaign for human rights throughout the world, including in South Africa, Canada, Brazil, and elsewhere."   

LDF's national office is in Manhattan, with regional offices in Washington, D.C. LDF has nearly two dozen staff lawyers and hundreds of cooperating attorneys across the nation.   Areas of activity include Litigation, Advocacy, Educational outreach, Policy research and monitoring legislation, Coalition-building, and Providing scholarships for exceptional African American students.  Areas of concern are Education (Affirmative action, Desegregation).  Political Participation (Voting rights, Felony disfranchisement).  Economic access (Employment discrimination, Environmental justice, Fair housing).  Criminal justice (Opposition to the death penalty, Fourth AmendmentSixth Amendment).  

LDF, at times, this separation has created considerable confusion in the eyes and minds of the public.  In the 1980s, the NAACP unsuccessfully sued LDF for trademark infringement.  In its ruling rejecting the NAACP’s lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recognized that “universal esteem in which the [NAACP] initials are held is due in significant measure to [LDF’s] distinguished record as a civil rights litigator” and that “the Association benefitted from the added luster given to the NAACP initials by the LDF's litigation successes.”   Sherrilyn Ifill currently serves as the seventh President and Director-Counsel, since 2013.  Previous Director-Counsels include John Payton, Theodore Shaw, Elaine Jones, Julius Levonne Chambers, Jack Greenberg, and founder Thurgood Marshall

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