Reactions from Black and civil rights leaders to the news of Attorney General Eric Holder’s imminent resignation was summarized best by President Obama. “This is bittersweet,” Obama said during a Sept. 25 press conference at the White House to announce Holder’s decision.

After listing a set of the attorney general’s achievements, the president also pinpointed what many has identified as Holder’s most valued accomplishment.

Obama Holder Resignation

President Barack Obama, right, looks on as Attorney General Eric Holder speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House, on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, in Washington. Holder, who served as the public face of the Obama administration’s legal fight against terrorism and weighed in on issues of racial fairness, is resigning after six years on the job. He is the first black U.S. attorney general. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“Eric’s proudest achievement, though, might be reinvigorating and restoring the core mission to what he calls ‘the conscience of the building’ – and that’s the Civil Rights Division,” Obama said.

Civil rights advocacy groups said they have found a great ally in Holder, particularly in fighting for issues such as voting rights.

“Over the course of Attorney General Holder’s illustrious career spanning 26 years with the Department of Justice (DOJ), he has displayed a strong commitment to racial justice and equality,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under law. “The DOJ has made great strides under his visionary leadership, especially in voting rights, including the repeal of felony disenfranchisement laws; predatory lending; immigration laws; criminal justice reform, particularly sentencing reform; and civil rights law enforcement. He has led the DOJ in taking many bold stances, including those on marriage equality.”

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings also praised Holder for his work in rekindling the relationship between police and minority communities and seeking equity for all Americans, among other goals.

“As the first-ever African American to serve in this position, Attorney General Holder has promoted equal protection under the law by building bridges across ideology, race, gender, and class,” Cummings said in a statement. “His capacity to fight for the rights of every American has been boundless.”

Holder has been at the forefront in dealing with controversial investigations such as the killing of Trayvon Martin and more recently Michael Brown. The attorney general actually visited Ferguson, Mo., to listen to residents and offer solutions after violent protests erupted in the wake of Brown’s death at the hand of a White police officer.

“He was the driving force and the primary face of the Administration on racial issues,” said Lawyers’ Committee Public Policy Director Tanya Clay House. “It is unimaginable where this country would be today without his courageous stance. Attorney General Holder’s commitment to ensuring that certain critical guidance on the use of race in K-12 and higher education with the Office of Civil Rights, and implementation and enforcement of the hate crimes bill are just a couple more examples of his impactful work.”

Barack Obama, Eric Holder

President Barack Obama, right, and the audience applaud as Attorney General Eric Holder wipes his eye, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014, where the president announced that Holder is resigning. Holder, who served as the public face of the Obama administration’s legal fight against terrorism and weighed in on issues of racial fairness, is resigning after six years on the job. He is the first black U.S. attorney general. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

But, some worry that the work Holder began or was not able to accomplish—such as the closing of Guantanamo Bay—may not be completed after his departure.

“The resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder is met with both pride and disappointment by the Civil Rights community. We are proud that he has been the best Attorney General on civil rights in U.S. history and disappointed because he leaves at a critical time when we need his continued diligence most,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, head of the National Action Network, in a statement.

Holder has said he plans to continue working on some of the issues he addressed during his tenure after he steps down from a position he called “the greatest honor of my professional life.”

“I have loved the Department of Justice ever since as a young boy I watched Robert Kennedy prove during the Civil Rights Movement how the Department can and must always be a force for that which is right. I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me,” he told the president, “and to the legacy of all those who have served before me.”

 

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO