Civil rights lawyers have litigated for human rights through the decades, resulting in landmark decisions that have changed America for the better.

There’s Brown vs. Board of Education, which 50 years ago made it unconstitutional to allow separate public schools for black and white students, and the Civil Rights Act of 1954, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex or religion.

The changes to America and the lawyers who litigated them will be addressed at the National Bar Association’s Wiley A. Branton Issues Symposium and awards luncheon, hosted by Southern University’s Law Center Oct. 30-31.

“We want to highlight the value of progress that we have made in this country as it relates to racial diversity and opportunities for racial minorities,” said John Pierre, Southern University vice chancellor and law professor.

Minority and low-income populations are still left behind, however, Pierre said.

“Poverty and access to education is a problem,” he said. “Education has to be dealt with as a civil and constitutional right.”

Pierre, who served as a lawyer on the East Baton Rouge Parish School desegregation case which ended in 2003, said lawyers have helped to shape change.

“Lawyers have the talent and skill level to help solve a lot of problems that people don’t necessarily give us credit for,” Pierre said.

The symposium will feature a number of firsts, including the American Bar Association’s President-elect Paulette Brown, who will be the first black woman to serve as ABA president starting next August.

“When the leader of the organization comes from two groups traditionally not included (women and blacks), then we’ve become warriors. It speaks volumes about the progress that has been made,” Pierre said.

The award named for Wiley A. Branton, who was a civil rights pioneer and lawyer who helped desegregate an Arkansas law school, will go to Norman Francis, president of Xavier University and the 2006 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award.

Francis, who also practiced law, is founding director of Liberty Bank, one of the country’s largest black-owned community-based banks.

The forum will discuss reforms, Common Core and barriers to a quality education in America, Pierre said.

“Lawyers have a large role in the educational arena, and they can use their talents to help solve problems facing education …” Pierre said.

To register for the free conference, email

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance writer. She can be reached at

Editor’s note: This was changed on Oct. 23, 2014, to correct the email address to register for the conference.