Source: HuffPost

Peering at her television screen, she could see the whole dais during Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings — a sequence of the same drab business suit repeated one after the other, with each accented by some understated accouterment. A gray suit with a blue tie. A blue suit with a gray tie. A black suit with a brown wristwatch.

But sitting in her family’s living room in 1974, Sherrilyn Ifill’s eyes were transfixed on radiant color: the bright red of Rep. Barbara Jordan’s dress, the brown of her skin. Ifill watched the hearings religiously with her family, inspired by the ways in which the South’s first black female representative waxed poetic on her country and criticized its corrupt leader. 

At that time, there was no possible way of knowing just how instructional those moments were.

“It wasn’t as though the men in that room looked like they wanted to listen to her,” Ifill recalled. “They just couldn’t not listen to her.”

Ifill is the president and director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), a role she has held since 2013. But the past two years under the Trump administration have seen a raft of civil rights rollbacks that have transformed the LDF into a rapid-response team for the disempowered.

Ifill and her associate director-counsel, Janai Nelson, said they remember discovering their passions for civil rights work early in their lives. Ifill was reared in a politically minded family and, as a child, desperately wished she had been alive during the height of the civil rights movement.

“I used to feel like I’d missed it,” she said, seemingly nodding to the similarity between that period and the current one. “I wondered how it could be possible that I wasn’t born at the time of this movement.” 

Nelson also recalled being conscious of racial injustice in America at a young age. 

“The issue of racial injustice has been one that I really can’t remember not being aware of, which in some ways is quite sad,” she told HuffPost. 

Thurgood Marshall founded the LDF in 1940 and intended it as a war chest to allow the NAACP to provide aid to those around the country scorned by systemic oppression. The LDF has been separate from the NAACP since 1957. Its history is abundant in high-profile cases, from Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court ruled against de jure school segregation, to the LDF’s involvement in the Shelby County v. Holder voting rights case, which ultimately resulted in a repeal of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. 

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