Earl Cunningham and Oscar Fambro in LDF’s office at 10 Columbus Circle, New York, 1970s
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) mourns the loss of Earl Cunningham, one of our longest-serving employees. Mr. Cunningham passed away on July 10, 2019 at the age of 79 at his home in Brooklyn after a lengthy struggle with cancer. Earl Cunningham joined LDF in 1968 and served as LDF’s Information and Office Services Clerk until his retirement 47 years later in 2015. Earl worked under the leadership of six of LDF’s seven Director-Counsels.
“I knew Earl Cunningham for nearly thirty years, since my days as a young lawyer at LDF” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “During that time, Earl was unchanged in his warmth, positive attitude and unselfish support for LDF’s work. When I was a young lawyer it was Earl (along with his colleague and friend, Oscar Fambro) who was with me late at night preparing briefs for filing. On those occasions we often talked about family and LDF history. I delighted in Earl’s remembrances about his early days working with Jack Greenberg, our second Director-Counsel. LDF was truly privileged to have an employee of such longevity and such loyalty serve with us.”
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Earl would regularly travel with the Director-Counsel and to courts to deliver briefs and other legal documents in person. He loved his work and took great pride in doing his job well and was a mentor for new staff. He was reliable, approachable, and many considered Earl as family.
June and Earl Cunningham
“During much of Earl’s lengthy career with LDF, there was little or no electronic filing of briefs and pleadings,” said Elaine Jones, LDF’s fourth President and Director-Counsel. “LDF has always had a massive litigation docket. Earl saw to it that LDF timely filed its voluminous pleadings and often worked late into the night to make sure that dedicated lawyers had maximum time to complete the submission. His commitment and dedication to LDF’s important work encouraged and inspired the entire staff.”
Earl also loved sports, particularly basketball and Washington Redskins football. He frequented LDF picnics and was an organizing member of LDF’s one and only softball team, Class Action, in 1982.
“I’m saddened to hear about the passing of Earl Cunningham. Earl was part of the heart of the Legal Defense Fund,” said Ted Shaw, LDF’s fifth President and Director-Counsel Ted Shaw. “People often only think about the lawyers when they think about the work of LDF. But without the staff, especially Earl, the work would not have been possible. My heart goes out to his family.”
Oscar Fambro, who joined Earl as an Information and Office Services Clerk in 1974, said he learned everything about his job at LDF from Earl. Oscar recalls when he was hired at LDF he was assured, “Earl will teach you what you need to know.” He described the two of them as a team with a great working relationship. They spent much of their time together in and outside the office. Their families were so close that Earl’s children would call Oscar just to check in.
In the words of former LDF attorney Patrick Patterson, “Earl was a significant part of the institutional ‘glue’ that held us all together, and he helped make LDF an effective advocacy organization and a great place to work. I will miss him.”
Earl Cunningham is survived by his wife June, who lovingly cared for him in home hospice in the final months of his life, and by his six siblings, two children, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
On July 22, 2019 there will be a viewing from 4:00-8:00pm at Frank R Bell Funeral Home located at 536 Sterling Place, Brooklyn NY 11238.
A service will be held on July 23, 2019 at 10:00am at St Teresa of Avila Church located at 543 Sterling Place, Brooklyn NY 11238. The burial will take place at Hollywood Memorial Park and Cemetery 1500 & 1621 Stuyvesant Avenue, Union, NJ 07083.