LDF mourns the passing of George Barrett, our cherished cooperating attorney in Nashville, Tennessee. At age 86, George was still practicing law at his firm, Barrett, Johnston, Martin & Garrison, at the time of his death.
George spent almost 60 years as a lawyer in the Deep South fighting for racial and economic justice. After graduating from Vanderbilt Law School in 1957, he began his practice in labor law and quickly became one of the nation’s leading labor lawyers. Because of his willingness to challenge authority on behalf of the underrepresented, he became known to all as “Citizen Barrett.”
LDF will remember George for his commitment to racial justice and his courage in bringing civil rights cases in his home state. In the 1960s, Barrett represented college students in Nashville in a lawsuit to integrate the education system. He also began his representation of a history teacher, Rita Sander Geier, in what would become a decades-long lawsuit to eliminate the vestiges of racial segregation in Tennessee’s higher education system. The case, Geier v. University of Tennessee, lasted more than 30 years and was finally settled in 2001. It resulted in vast structural changes for ensuring equal educational opportunity for college students in Tennessee. George also represented persons on death row, litigated numerous employment discrimination cases, and challenged discriminatory photo ID voting laws passed by the Tennessee Legislature.
Most recently, George served as co-counsel with LDF in an environmental justice case, Holt v. City of Dickson. We represented three generations of an African-American family in rural Tennessee who—unlike their white neighbors—were not informed by public officials or private polluters about contamination in their drinking water. “George’s strategic sense and his unflappability were instrumental in our successful efforts to obtain justice for the Holts. He will be greatly missed,” remarked LDF’s Director of Economic Justice, ReNika Moore.
George also worked tirelessly to promote racial and gender diversity on the federal bench and partnered with LDF on numerous occasions to identify and support federal judicial candidates. Leslie Proll, Director of LDF’s Washington office, stated: “George was a national treasure, and we are very saddened by our loss. He served as a role model for all of us in terms of the difference that a single individual can make in the pursuit for racial equality. We are indebted to George for his extraordinary lifetime contribution to civil rights.”