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Eric Holder served as U.S. attorney general from 2009-2015. (AFRO File Photo)

One of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations recently celebrated the half-century success of a key piece of legislation by honoring noted political, legal and entertainment figures.

The Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law held its 2015 A. Leon Higginbotham Corporate Leadership Award Dinner and associated events on June 3 and 4 in New York City.

Barbara Arnwine, the president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee, said the events were designed to honor the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, considered by many historians as transformative legislation.

“We were honored to be able to be joined by and recognize civil rights heroes such as noted civil rights attorney Fred Gray; former U.S. Attorney General, the Honorable Eric Holder Jr.; and community leader and Sixth Circuit Federal Judge Damon Keith,” Arnwine said.

The Lawyers Committee was founded in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy following a meeting of 244 lawyers in the East Room of the White House. President Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy attended the meeting and urged the lawyers to use their training and influence to shift the civil rights movement from the streets to the courts.

Since that time, the Lawyers Committee has played a key role in advocating civil and human rights laws and actions such as the repeated renewal of the Voting Rights Act, fighting for equal rights for women and workers, working to end White racist rule in Southern Africa, and monitoring police activities in communities of color.

Higginbotham, who died in 1998, was a U.S. Court of Appeals judge for the Third Circuit, a groundbreaking judge with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the first Black appointed to the Federal Trade Commission. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton and the NAACP’s Spingarn Award. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) clerked for Higginbotham early in her legal career.

On June 3, Keith and Gray discussed their legal careers with event participants. On June 4, the Higginbotham Dinner was held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel.

The Lawyers Committee honored Toyota and its CEO James Lentz for its diversity and inclusion efforts and accomplishments with the Higginbotham Corporate Leadership Award; Holder with its Robert F. Kennedy Justice Prize; Gray with its Pillar of Justice Award, and actor David Oyelowo who played Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma.”

Oyelowo could not attend the event but sent a video presentation thanking the Lawyers Committee for the recognition.

Former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was recognized for her and her family’s work on behalf of civil rights. Michelle Miller of CBS News served as the emcee of the dinner.

Arnwine said that while there has been progress in the field of civil rights, there is much work to be done.

“While we dedicated our time to celebrating one of the most effective civil rights achievements in U.S. history, we also recognize that our most fundamental constitutional right is under attack,” she said. “The Supreme Court decision in Shelby vs. Holder gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, creating unnecessary obstacles to the ballot box for many Americans. The Lawyers Committee is hard at work to protect the right to vote and ensure each and every American has equal access to cast their ballots.”