The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) deeply mourns the passing of the brilliant civil rights attorney, distinguished LDF litigator, and longtime member of the LDF family, Deborah Greenberg. An expert employment discrimination lawyer, Mrs. Greenberg was also the widow of LDF’s second Director-Counsel and civil rights icon Jack Greenberg. She passed away in August 2021.
“The entire LDF family sends its deepest condolences to Mrs. Greenberg’s family and friends. Words cannot fully express our gratitude for the many decades of generous counsel and support alongside her beloved husband Jack Greenberg that impacted generations of litigators at LDF. She left an indelible mark on the organization and on all those who encountered her. Through her lifelong commitment to civil rights, her many years as an educator of aspiring attorneys, and her international endeavors, Mrs. Greenberg’s impact and legacy will last for decades to come,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill.
Deborah Greenberg was born in February 1935 and graduated from Columbia Law School in 1957. Her first job as an attorney was at the Wall Street firm of Hughes, Hubbard, Blair, and Reed where she was the only female lawyer on the staff. She would eventually move on to lead the Norman Foundation, which is where she met Jack Greenberg. The two would eventually marry in 1970 and form a loving and influential partnership that would last 46 years, until his passing in 2016.
After several years at the Norman Foundation, Mrs. Greenberg was granted a fellowship with the Metropolitan Applied Research Council, which enabled her to pursue a career as a civil rights litigator.
She joined LDF as an employment discrimination attorney in the early 1970s and worked on 30 cases, including litigation against the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also worked on cases against the General Electric Corporation, International Paper, the Long Island Railroad, and the New York City Human Resources Administration. In addition, Mrs. Greenberg argued two cases before the United States Supreme Court: Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc. (1974) and New York City Transit Authority v. Beazer (1978).
During her time at LDF, she was also instrumental in bringing computers to the organization, reaching out to IBM for their assistance in developing LDF’s computing capabilities – a major development in the evolution of LDF’s work.
Mrs. Greenberg left LDF to become president of the Legal Action Center, a non-profit that uses legal and policy strategies to fight discrimination, build health equity, and restore opportunity for individuals with arrest and conviction records, HIV/AIDS, or substance abuse disorders. She also served as the chairperson of the Committee on Minority Rights and Equal Opportunities of the American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.
In 1978, and the Greenbergs spent a month in South Africa advising lawyers interested in setting up an organization similar to LDF. As a result of the trip, the local attorneys created the Legal Resources Centre, which continues today with a mission to undertake evidence-informed action focused on advancing the transformation of South Africa as a democratic society, using the law as an instrument to remove persistent and pervasive structural obstacles to human rights.
Mrs. Greenberg eventually returned to her alma mater as a clinical professor of law at Columbia University. While there, she founded and directed the Law School’s AIDS Law Clinic with current Ropes & Gray partner Mark Barnes.
Deborah Greenberg leaves a legacy of groundbreaking work in the legal profession and made a lasting impact on LDF. We send our sincerest condolences to all her loved ones during this difficult time.