Veteran civil rights attorneys honored

October 13, 2011
Written by Jimmie E. Gates

Two veteran attorneys who have championed justice and civil rights for citizens will be honored today at the Jackson Convention Complex.

Constance Slaughter-Harvey and Rob McDuff will be celebrated for their work by the nonprofit Mississippi Center for Justice.

"These two remarkable Mississippians have each spent a lifetime of work protecting civil rights and advancing justice for everyone in our state," said Martha Bergmark, founding president of the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Bergmark herself is accepting an award in Washington today on behalf of the center as part of President Barack Obama's Winning the Future Initiative, but she plans to be back in Jackson for this evening's Champions of Justice dinner.

Slaughter-Harvey was the first black woman to graduate from the University of Mississippi School of Law. The Forest-native became the first black woman president of the National Association of Elections Directors and successfully argued the case that led to the desegregation of the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol. Slaughter-Harvey also served on the staffs of former Gov. William Winter and former Secretary of State Dick Molpus.

"I'm so proud to be honored with Rob. There are very few attorneys like Rob McDuff who actually care about people," Slaughter-Harvey said. "He is one of
my favorite lawyers."

McDuff has made a history fighting for indigent individuals and working to free those wrongly convicted.

McDuff, a Jackson attorney and Hattiesburg native, has handled a variety of cases involving police misconduct, jail conditions, free speech, indigent defense funding, reproductive freedom, school prayer, discrimination in employment and housing and the death penalty.

And McDuff helped found the organization that is honoring him and Slaughter-Harvey.
Slaughter-Harvey said she and McDuff are like twins, only that one is a white and male and the other black and female.

And McDuff agrees.

"Constance Slaughter-Harvey is one of the great Mississippians of all time," McDuff said. "Throughout her life, she has always been a strong force for social justice. As many will tell you, just being in her presence is an uplifting experience. She has a brilliant mind and a generous spirit, and by her example, inspires others to be better."

Slaughter-Harvey said her parents taught her that if you have any talents, you should share them with those less fortunate.

McDuff said he has been fortunate to find a profession he enjoys that allows him to work on things he cares about.
The Champions of Justice Dinner is the center's annual opportunity to honor those who have made significant contributions to ensure there is justice for all.
The Mississippi Center for Justice's mission is to advance racial and economic justice for all citizens.

While in Washington, Bergmark will participate in a roundtable discussion with other honorees and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, among other White House representatives, on increasing the work of the center and other organizations working to secure racial and economic justice.

Last week, the National Consumers League in Washington, DC., recognized Paheadra Robinson, director of consumer protection for the Mississippi Center for Justice, for her efforts in leading a coalition working to save the homes of Mississippians facing foreclosure and to provide help to people caught in a predatory lending trap.