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Legal Titans of Civil Rights: Kimberle’ Crenshaw and Bryan Stevenson

black history month, kimberle crenshaw, bryan stevenson, trailblazers, law, civil rights, intersectionality, critical race theory, american academy of arts and science, equal justice initiative, eji, miller v. alabama, just mercy, MacArthur Fellowship, genius grant

GOLDLAW continues its tribute to Black History Month by recognizing the careers and achievements of two more African American legal titans. Ideas possess the remarkable power to shape and propel society. Kimberle’ Crenshaw and Bryan Stevenson are living testaments to this phenomenon. Crenshaw’s seminal work on intersectionality provided a critical lens through which we perceive systemic issues of power and disadvantage. Stevenson’s relentless pursuit of justice has not only changed the lives of countless individuals but has also challenged the nation to confront its legacy of racial inequality.

Kimberle’ Crenshaw

Born in Canton, OH in 1959, at a young age, Kimberle’ Crenshaw was encouraged by her parents to discuss “interesting things” that she “observed in the world that day.” This early direction would become the basis for her career in law. After graduating from Cornell, Crenshaw received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1984. In 1985, she earned an LL.M. from the University of Wisconsin Law School. A leading scholar in critical race theory, she is renowned for her work on intersectionality. Here’s a closer look at some of her most noteworthy achievements:

1. Development of Intersectional Theory

Crenshaw’s introduction of the concept of intersectionality in 1989 is perhaps her most significant contribution to legal theory and civil rights discourse. This framework has become fundamental in studies of systemic inequality and has influenced fields beyond law, including sociology, feminist studies, and political science.

2. Co-Founder of the African American Policy Forum (AAPF)

Crenshaw is the co-founder the African American Policy Forum, an innovative think tank, along with Dr. Luke Charles Harris. The AAPF connects academics, activists, and policymakers with the goal of dismantling structural inequality through research, public education, and policy advocacy on issues of gender and racial justice.

3. Critical Race Theory Scholarship

As a leading scholar in critical race theory, Crenshaw’s work has been pivotal in studying race and the law. Her work explores the intersections of race, gender, and class in the context of legal issues, particularly in how civil rights and anti-discrimination laws are applied.

4. Influential Publications

Crenshaw has authored numerous influential books and articles that have shaped discourse in legal theory and civil rights. Publications like the ones below have become foundational texts in legal studies and feminist theory:

5. Election to the American Academy of Arts and Science

In 2021, Crenshaw was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for her transformative work and accomplishments in pioneering intersectionality, civil rights, critical race theory, and the law.

Kimberle’ Crenshaw’s achievements extend beyond her groundbreaking scholarship. Her active engagement in civil rights advocacy, education, and public discourse have made her one of the most influential figures in the fight for equality and justice in modern day America.

Bryan Stevenson

A graduate of Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and Harvard, where he earned both a J.D. and M.A. in Public Policy, Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer, social justice advocate, and Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. His work has focused on challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Here are some of Stevenson’s most notable accomplishments:

1. Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)

Stevenson founded the EJI in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1989. The organization is dedicated to defending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human right for the most vulnerable people in American society.

2. Winning Major Legal Challenges Against Excessive/Unfair Sentencing

Stevenson has won significant legal battles that have saved dozens of prisoners from the death penalty. His efforts have included winning a historic ruling in the Supreme Court in 2012, Miller v. Alabama, that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 and under are unconstitutional.

3. Creation of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Stevenson’s vision led to the creation of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Opened in 2018 in Montgomery, AL, it was the first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved African Americans, and those victimized by racial segregation and Jim Crow.

4. Writing the Best-Selling Book “Just Mercy”

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, is a powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a call to fix the broken system of justice. Published in 2014, it has received numerous awards, and was adapted into the critically acclaimed film, “Just Mercy,” that starred Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.

5. MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” Winner

In recognition of his work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, Stevenson was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1995.

Stevenson’s strategic legal battles against segregation and his commitment to training the next generation of civil rights lawyers cemented his legacy as a key architect of the civil rights movement.