Sherrilyn Ifill - Honorees - The Gordon Parks Foundation

Sherrilyn Ifill is the seventh President and Director- Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the nation's premier civil rights legal organization. LDF was founded in 1940 by legendary civil rights lawyer (and later Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall. The youngest of 10 children, Ifill was raised in New York City and educated in the public schools. She graduated from Vassar College, and from New York University School of Law.

After graduating law school, Ms. Ifill served first as a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union and then for five years as an Assistant Counsel in LDF’s New York office, where she litigated voting rights cases in the south. During her tenure at LDF, Ms. Ifill litigated numerous cases including the landmark Voting Rights Act case Houston Lawyers’ Association vs. Attorney General of Texas, in which the Supreme Court held that judicial elections are covered by the provisions of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In 1993, Ms. Ifill left LDF to join the faculty of the University of the Maryland School of Law, where, in addition to teaching Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law and a variety of seminars, she continued to litigate and consult on a broad and diverse range of civil rights cases. While at Maryland she developed an environmental justice clinical offering and co-founded one of the first legal clinics in the nation devoted to removing legal barriers to formerly incarcerated persons seeking to responsibly re-enter society. Ifill also created a clinical offering focused on advancing legal remedies for historical violations of international human rights law and norms.

Since returning to LDF in 2013, Ifill has increased the visibility and engagement of the organization in cutting edge and urgent civil rights issues including policing reform, voter suppression and housing discrimination. At critical moments of national turmoil and division, Ifill’s voice and vision have emerged with powerful clarity in national media appearances, op-eds and speeches. She is a sought-after speaker and strategist whose counsel is sought by public officials, civic and community and academic leaders, and national civil rights colleagues.

A critically acclaimed author, her scholarly articles and her 2007 book On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century, reflect Ifill's lifelong engagement in and analysis of issues of race and American public life. Her book proposes the creation of local truthand-reconciliation commissions and public memorials to address the history of lynching. Ifill is a past Chair of the Board of U.S. Programs at the Open Society Institute, one of the largest philanthropic supporters of civil rights and social justice organizations in the country. She currently serves on the global board of the Open Society Foundations, and on the board Equal Justice Works, the National Constitution Center and the Learning Policy Institute.