President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter

Seven leaders of American civil rights organizations met with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for a conversation the leaders described as frank and often passionate, as the country plots its way forward post Donald Trump.

According to Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, who led the virtual press briefing, the conversation lasted about an hour and 45 minutes and focused on racial equity, social justice and increased diversity within the Biden-Harris cabinet and their senior advisors.

The other leaders of the civil rights big seven that participated included: Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network; Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP; Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law; and Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

In addition to Biden and Harris the seven leaders engaged with Rep. Cedric Richmond, (D-La.), who is Biden’s pick to lead his Office of Public Engagement and is one of the five co-organizers of next month’s presidential inauguration.

Gupta, who formerly led President Obama’s Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice, focused on the need for a strong attorney general.

“I stressed the importance of having an attorney general who demonstrates strong leadership at the DOJ to build up the morale of the Department, which has taken such a bad hit because of partisan interference during the Trump administration,” Gupta said. “To respect the rule of law and democratic norms and have a demonstrated record on civil rights and criminal justice reform and justice for all. It really requires having somebody who knows the Department well who knows where the levers are…not just restore, but have a bold vision for what this country needs in this moment.”

Ifill spoke to the urgency of protecting the Black vote.

“About the importance of support for legislation that will not only restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act, but extend beyond that to create a full package of affirmative and progressive voting measures,” Ifill said. “We believe that HR1, the bill that passed the House and that now has been sitting on (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell’s desk for some time, along with HR4, the pre-clearance bill, need to be pushed. We understand the realpolitik of numbers in the Senate, but we also want the president (Biden), to bring his weight to bear on the importance of these pieces of legislation. The same with the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, also already passed the House. I prevailed upon the President-elect to bring his power, his voice and his determination to the passage of that important piece of legislation.”

Sharpton of the National Action Network got to the core of the Biden-Harris administration’s task of repairing what many characterize as the catastrophic damage done by Trump in the area of race relations.

“He (Biden) is succeeding the most racist and bigoted administration in memory,” said Sharpton. “So, it is not even just about going forward, we must repair this damage that has been done by this administration; the federal judges they have appointed, the Supreme Court…cancellation of consent decrees in cities found by the Justice Department to have a pattern and practice of going above and beyond the law and in many cases police abuse,” Sharpton added. “I reminded him (Biden)…that we saw George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, all within 30 to 40 days in the middle of a pandemic. And this kind of compressed example, mostly videotaped…was too much and caused a movement that we have not seen in our lifetime.”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor