Janai Nelson has been appointed the next president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Under the direction of founder Thurgood Marshall, the Legal Defense Fund played a monumental role in the racial desegregation of higher education in the United States. Today the organization continues to fight against voter suppression, inequity in education, economic disparities, and racial discrimination in the criminal legal system.
Nelson has been associate director-counsel at the organization for nearly eight years. She began her civil rights career at LDF, first as an extern in 1995 while a law school student. After leaving LDF to do research in Ghana, West Africa, as a Fulbright awardee, she spent nearly 10 years in academia, where she became a full professor and high-level administrator and dean at St. John’s University School of Law in New York. She returned to the LDF in 2014.
“From the moment I learned about LDF’s storied legacy in securing and advancing the civil rights of Black people in America and pressing this country to live up to its constitutional ideals, I knew that contributing to that effort would be the highest and most fulfilling pursuit,” said Nelson. “LDF is unparalleled in its contributions to the cause of racial justice over the past 81 years and in the evolution and protection of civil rights for Black people. It is the utmost honor to continue the work of those who came before me alongside the exceedingly talented team of lawyers, advocates, organizers, researchers, communications professionals, and administrative personnel that comprise LDF today.”
Nelson is a graduate of New York University and the law school at the University of California, Los Angeles. Upon graduating from law school, Nelson clerked for Theodore McMillian on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and for David H. Coar on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.