From securing the right to vote, to clearing subsequent barriers to the ballot box, to ensuring education equity for children, to fighting for affordable housing and health care, Black women have been formidable forces for change.
Despite this track record of leadership, Black women face barriers in collectively reaping the benefits of their hard work and sacrifice. This time, Senate Republicans are challenging the confirmation of veteran civil rights attorney and humanitarian Kristen Clarke as the next assistant attorney general for the Justice Department Civil Rights Division. The Senate will vote today to confirm her appointment.
Clarke will bring an unprecedented breadth of experience and civil rights leadership to the Civil Rights Division. She is applauded for leading groundbreaking and courageous work encompassing virtually every area of civil rights enforcement and litigation. In a nation seemingly besieged by domestic terrorism, police violence, racism, and hate, the DOJ needs an unwavering leader. Clarke is the best and only option.
Moreover, if confirmed, Clarke would be the first woman to lead the Civil Rights Division and the first Black woman to hold the post in any capacity since the division was created in 1957. Certainly, Clarke must be confirmed not merely for posterity’s sake but because she is an uncompromised champion for civil rights.
She has proven that she will uphold the law and work to further justice for all Americans. When she led the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the organization took legal action to remove racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant hate off the internet and urged social media companies and web service providers to protect impacted communities by enforcing their own terms of service, which prohibit such conduct. This work included shutting down the neo-Nazi website stormfront.org, one of the largest and longest-running hate sites in the world. The Lawyer’s Committee also achieved a landmark victory against The Daily Stormer and its publisher for engaging in online threats and racial harassment.
As Clarke’s former civil rights colleagues and as her allies, we offer this perspective: we know with certainty that there is no one more qualified to lead the civil rights division at the DOJ than Kristen Clarke. She enthusiastically embraces the challenge of restoring the DOJ to its mission of fighting for the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. With her leadership, we believe the agency will relentlessly pursue equal rights, equal justice, and equal opportunity for all people.
Our unqualified endorsement is bolstered by a host of Black women leaders, representing some of this nation’s leading and highly regarded organizations and institutions. We each express our unequivocal support for the confirmation of Clarke.
For generations, Black women have been at the forefront of major civil rights and social justice movements, sacrificing their lives and livelihoods in pursuit of freedom and justice for all. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s would have been markedly different without the wisdom and work of Black women. The modern voting rights movement would also be drastically limited without the ingenuity of Black women who now lead some of the most impactful civil rights organizations of our times. Yet, we understand more than most that, from childhood, many Black women have been urged to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.
Clarke not only understood that advice but likely abided by it. She began her legal career as an attorney in the prestigious Honors Program in the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ. She went on to work as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the New York Attorney General’s Office, and as president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Her distinguished career demonstrates not only a willingness to work hard but a passion for advancing the civil rights of marginalized communities. A cursory scan of her curriculum vitae reveals that she has dedicated her career to the enforcement and expansion of civil rights. A deeper look reveals that there is no one more qualified to pursue justice and protect democracy than Clarke.
Black women have always been at the forefront of this nation’s fight for civil rights. Now is the time to provide the legal authority to Kristen Clarke to do the one thing we are uniquely capable of doing: furthering the fight for equal justice for all Americans.
Melanie L. Campbell is the President/CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable.
Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole is the Chair and President of the National Council of Negro Women.