In Honor of Community Leader and Former LDF Associate Director-Counsel
Saturday, July 24, a section of Decatur Street between Lewis and Stuyvesant Avenues in Brooklyn, New York, was co-named Jacqueline Berrien Way in honor of former NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) Associate Director-Counsel Jacqueline A. Berrien, an extraordinary and highly accomplished civil rights lawyer, who died in 2015. Ms. Berrien served as associate director-counsel from 2004 to 2009, before becoming the 14th chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under the Obama Administration.
“Jacqueline Berrien was an instrumental figure in LDF history, a superb mentor, and a dear friend,” said current LDF Associate Director-Counsel Janai Nelson, who attended the event. “During her near 15 years with LDF, she helped transform our work. Early in her time with LDF, Ms. Berrien litigated some of our most notable voting rights and desegregation cases, including Manning v. School Board of Hillsborough County, Florida, a case that lasted 40 years before the county was forced to end its segregated school system and build a more equitable one.
“As EEOC chair, she approached her work with the resolve to both enforce this country’s equal employment laws and improve upon them. Among her many accomplishments was adopting the agency’s first-ever regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Acts and recovering a record amount of monetary relief for discrimination plaintiffs through administrative enforcement. She was a fierce and fastidious advocate who was as kind and personable as she was brilliant. This street-naming will cement her name where her heart was always anchored—in the community. And I am grateful to participate in honoring her legacy.”
Ms. Berrien first came to work at LDF in 1986 as a summer intern supported by the Cora Warren Fellowship while she was a student at Harvard University. She returned to LDF in 1994 as Assistant Counsel following stints as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. After working at the Ford Foundation, she was appointed associate director-counsel by LDF’s fifth President and Director-Counsel Ted Shaw.
In 2009, Ms. Berrien was selected by President Obama to head the EEOC. During her term, she oversaw the agency’s 53 offices in the United States and Puerto Rico, including approximately 2,200 employees and an annual budget of more than $360 million. She worked steadfastly to strengthen the enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act through agency guidance, litigation, and advocacy.
Berrien’s widower Pete Williams told OTP in an interview that the day was a block-party and “reunion” with friends, family, professional associates, community leaders, neighbors and about 30 members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority stepping out in full force and red brigalia to honor their beloved soror.
“Jackie would have been elated,” said Williams. “It was a celebratory, festive, joyful event, saluting her achievements and her great love for her community.”
Williams also credited the initial idea for the co-naming to City Council members Laurie Cumbo and Robert Cornegy. It was passed by the City Council three years ago. Williams, supported by a cadre of friends and loved ones, kept up the momentum to make the co-naming a reality.