The annual Fall Reception of the Princeton (New Jersey) Committee of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was billed rather simply as a “Conversation” with LDF present and past Directors-Counsel. It was intended to offer during the celebration of the organization’s seventieth anniversary a moment of reflection of LDF’s challenges and achievements.
As might have been expected, however, the Directors-Counsel who were in attendance – John Payton, the present President and Director-Counsel, Theodore M. “Ted” Shaw, his immediate predecessor, and Elaine R. Jones, Shaw’s immediate predecessor – used the device of reflection not for nostalgia’s sake. They used it to comment on the present state of justice and democracy in American society and suggest to their audience ways to think about the future.
John Payton characterized LDF’s task in challenging America to become a more inclusive democracy as “a marathon, not a sprint” – made so because problems such as school segregation and housing discrimination that LDF attacked in now-celebrated court cases “were not static. They were dynamic,” he said. “They changed.” For example, he pointed out that today, because of massive white flight from the cities from the 1940s to the early 1970s, millions of black families live in densely-segregated residential neighborhoods and more black children attend profoundly segregated schools than ever.
“These are unanticipated problems brought on by past successes,” Payton told the audience of nearly 250 people who had gathered at the Institute for Advanced Study. “There’s no quick fix for these. The fight goes on.”
Ted Shaw, discussing some of the high-profile cases that LDF took on during his twenty-six years with the organization, added that sometimes the fight involved devoting time and voluminous resources to keeping “cases that would make bad law” from reaching the Supreme Court. He reminded the audience that LDF’s work involves a great deal more than just arguing cases before the bench.
Jones used that point to underscore the importance to LDF of such supporters as the 35-year-old Princeton Committee. She said they provide LDF with the werewithal for the “staying power” it needs to carry on its work year after year.
The Committee also honored Louise J. Morse, a longtime activist who has been a member of the Committee since 1976.