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Sherrilyn Ifill

Nonprofit director and law professor Sherrilyn Ifill was born on December 17, 1962 in New York City to Myrtle and Lester Ifill, Sr. Ifill graduated from Vassar College in 1984 with her B.A. degree in English, and went on to receive her J.D. degree from New York University School of Law in 1987.

From 1987 to 1988, Ifill served as a senior fellow with New York’s American Civil Liberties Union’s office. She then worked as assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund from 1988 to 1993. While there, Ifill litigated the landmark case of Houston Lawyers’ Association v. Attorney General of Texas in 1991 which declared that the second article of the Voting Rights Act covered judicial elections. In 1993, Ifill accepted a faculty position as professor of law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, focusing on civil procedure and constitutional law. She also co-founded one of the first legal clinics in the nation dedicated to eliminating the legal barriers placed on recently released criminal offenders looking to re-enter society. Her book On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century was published in 2007. In 2012, Ifill was chosen as President and Director-Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In this role, she led the litigation proceedings for Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 and Fisher v. University of Texas Austin in 2016.

Ifill is the recipient of numerous awards including the Award for Professional Excellence from Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession and the M. Shanara Gilbert Human Rights Award from the Society of American Law Teachers. She served as the commencement speaker in 2015 for both Bard University and her alma mater, New York University where she was also awarded honorary doctorate degrees. A frequent guest and contributor on CNN, NBC, ABC, C-Span, National Public Radio, Ifill served on the boards of Equal Justice Works, the National Constitution Center, the Learning Policy Institute, the National Women’s Law Center as well as board chair of U.S. Programs for the Open Society from 2011-2013.

Ifill and her husband, Ivo Knobloch, have three daughters.

Sherrilyn Ifill was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 30, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.012

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/29/2016

Last Name

Ifill

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

A.

Organizations
Schools

Hillcrest High School

Vassar College

New York University School of Law

P.S. 219 Paul Klapper School

J.H.S. 218 Campbell Junior High School

First Name

Sherrilyn

Birth City, State, Country

Queens, New York

HM ID

IFI02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Spain

Favorite Quote

The Arc Of The Moral Universe Is Long, But It Bends Towards Justice.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

12/17/1962

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Carribean Chicken

Short Description

Nonprofit director and law professor Sherrilyn Ifill (1962 - ) taught at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and served as the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Employment

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Favorite Color

Blue

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sherrilyn Ifill's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sherrilyn Ifill lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her mother's death from breast cancer

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sherrilyn Ifill lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers being bused to school

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about her early awareness of racial injustice

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her stepmother

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about her experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers her early interest in literature

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about her father's strict discipline

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the changes in her neighborhood in Queens, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls the influence of Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers Hillcrest High School in Queens, New York, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers Hillcrest High School in Queens, New York, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about her interest in baseball

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers the music of her youth

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her experiences of bullying

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her relationship with her father

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her early aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her influences at Vassar College

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers meeting her husband in Spain

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls applying to the New York University School of Law

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about her aspiration to become a civil rights lawyer

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers learning about civil procedure

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about the value of public education

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls the racial tensions at the New York University School of Law

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sherrilyn Ifill remembers her law internships

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her fellowship at the American Civil Liberties Union

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her family's opinion of her interracial marriage

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her children's upbringing

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls joining the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her first case at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her first case at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the importance of local politics

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls the appropriation of civil rights language by conservatives

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about responding to the changing forms of racism

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the Thurgood Marshall Institute

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls joining the faculty of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her career at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her clinical program at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls her legal research on the Eastern Shore of Maryland

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the research for 'On the Courthouse Lawn'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes Taunya Lavelle Banks

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls her writer's residency at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her book, 'On the Courthouse Lawn'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the history of lynching in Maryland

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls preparing to lead the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Sherrilyn Ifill recalls preparing to lead the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her vision for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the changes to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the rapid response team at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes the work of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about the recent police shootings of African Americans

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her educational outreach efforts

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Sherrilyn Ifill talks about youth activism against policy brutality

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes lessons from the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her hopes for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Sherrilyn Ifill describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Sherrilyn Ifill reflects upon her father's legacy

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$6

DAStory

10$9

DATitle
Sherrilyn Ifill talks about her early awareness of racial injustice
Sherrilyn Ifill describes the rapid response team at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
Transcript
So what were some of the conversations around race?$$Oh gosh, everything. You know, things that we saw on television, you know, this was, you know.$$There's a lot happening?$$There's a lot happening and, and I, it grew up in a, we--you know, in a, in a bubble of a time, right? My, my conscious memories are maybe from 1967 to, you know, in, in that period in, in the ear- through the early, early '70s [1970s], I tell people all the time, like I watched the entire Watergate hearings, that summer, you know, with my sisters. So I grew up in this time where America was really reforming itself, and with a, the project of reforming America seemed like a possible thing that people could actually make change and make things happen. But issues around race were incredibly volatile during this period and, you know, Shirley Chisholm's run for president was a big deal, things happening in our, in our own community around policing. I mean I can remember a boy who was killed by the police during that period and I've talked about it recently, it only actually came to me recently to even remember that this happened. But I remember it being a big issue that people talked about at the bus stop and--$$Yeah, I was surprised by that because, you know I, it was, you remembered the name of the police officer that--$$Yeah.$$Thomas--$$It was weird.$$Thomas Shea, I thought that was, you know and that you went back and looked and--$$I didn't go back. So I went to, I went to, to St. Louis [Missouri] to give a speech right after Mike Brown [Michael Brown] was killed and when I was, I was interviewed on the radio about, and the question is the question many people ask, you know, is this a new issue or, you know, why are we suddenly seeing all these police involved killings? And, you know, I was on NPR [National Public Radio], and I just said, "Well I can tell you my first memory of the issue of police officers and violence, maybe even my first memory of really thinking about the, the police and it involved the killing of, you know, a boy in Queens [New York]," and I said on the radio, "I remember the officer's name, it was Shea. I didn't remember his first name, I remembered the boy was killed and they said, the officer said he thought that he had a gun, I remember that he was acquitted and the reason it stuck with me, it was so powerful is because I was ten and the boy was ten. And I remember the talking about it at the bus stop, and I remember what the front page of the Daily News [New York Daily News] looked like on my parents' coffee table, you know?" So I remember that and I got back to the hotel room and someone on social media said to me, "I found the case you're talking about," and they sent me the Daily News article and the officer's name was Shea, it was Thomas Shea, the boy's name was Clifford Glover and there was the story. And since then, The New York Times has done a story about it and so forth but, so it, it was interesting to me, I had, it wasn't that I had ev- had talked about Clifford Glover in the ensuing years. It's just somebody asked me that question and there I sat and I thought, well what's my first memory? And I had a memory that's forty years old of a ten year old boy being killed by an officer and being acquitted for this killing and he didn't have a gun, you know? And he was with his father [Glover's stepfather, Add Armstead]. And so, so it was a really important moment to say, you know, when you say wha- what were the conversations like about? It was happening, you know, and it was just a part of life that you dealt with and I think many of us have those very deeply embedded memories even if we're not in touch with them on a day to day basis, if pressed we discover that our memories are quite potent, and, and that unfortunately, they're quite connected to many of the things we see today.$$You know, and that's pretty--because what I'm hearing about you, 'cause a lot of times, you're, you and your household were very aware and maybe this is a lot of households around that time very, are very aware of what's happening on the outside--$$Very much so.$$--world.$$Very much so.$$Um-hm.$$Every, you know, every weekend we watched Gil Noble's 'Like It Is,' there wou- that was a, you know, an amazing program and we were expected to know about history and every documentary, you know, ev- every year they would, they would air, you know, 'King: from Montgomery to Memphis' ['King: A Filmed Record, Montgomery to Memphis'] you now, it was a documentary, every year. So we would watch it and it would close with that walk for his funeral and Nina Simone singing 'The King of Love is Dead' ['Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)'], like th- this is something I'm, you know, seeing when I'm nine, ten years old. So there are, and it came on every year, so that there was a reinforcement about race, my father [Lester Ifill, Sr.] talked about race all the time.$$Um-hm.$$He talked about the expectation that you had to be good and, and better and, you know, and he made clear what the expectations were of us dealing in that world. So the idea that there was unfairness and there was inequality with something that we knew, my father, as I said, was a social worker in Harlem [New York, New York] and he worked in the organization he led, he was the director of an organization called, HARYOU-ACT [Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited - Associated Community Teams, New York, New York], which was actually founded by Kenneth Clark, Dr. Kenneth Clark, who did the famous doll test in, that, that supported the work in Brown [Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954]. But he ran this organization HARYOU-ACT and it was focused on ha- it was Harlem Youth, that's where Harlem Youth came from. So he was very connected into young people and their needs and, you know, we always thought it was funny 'cause he was so strict to us and seemed so mean, but he really liked young people (laughter), other young people who, who, you know, who were struggling, who were struggling and his, and his job was to advocate for what they needed. So we would, you know, I don't ever recall feeling disconnected from the idea of, of race and racial inequality and I certainly don't recall feeling particularly disconnected from my own personal need to be engaged in it. That came very early for me, the feeling that somehow I would be a part of this thing.$Creating a rapid response team and a rapid response fund, so that when things happen, like Ferguson [Missouri], we can respond because, you know, you don't, you don't budget this happening, you don't plan for it to happen but, sometimes a moment happens in civil rights. That's been the history that changes things, you know. It's not that Rosa Parks called Thurgood Marshall, you know, and Fred Gray called and said, "This is what's gonna happen two weeks from now." It happened and then they called, we didn't--nobody got permission to do the Selma march [Selma to Montgomery March] from LDF [NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.], but LDF did represent the Selma marchers, right? So, the, they're these transformative moments that happen that we have no control over, but we need to institutionally be able to respond to the moment, that's as a matter of man power, as a matter of budgeting as a matter of bandwidth and so forth. So creating, creating that space, you know, it was vitally important I think and has proven to be really critical actually to our engagement and our centrality and some of the most important issues that we're dealing with today. And that's all at the same time that we're doing something like voting which we never stopped doing and we litigated the Shelby case [Shelby County v. Holder, 2013] and that's the issue and, and so being able to do the two at the same time is extremely challenging but I do think it's part of LDF's tradition actually, you know. I remind people all the time about the array of matters in which LDF was involved and sometimes people, you know, are surprised. When Muhammad Ali just died, it's like, well who represented Muhammad Ali in, you know, when he wanted to get his boxing license back from New York State? Who represented him before the [U.S.] Supreme Court that got his draft conviction overturned? That was LDF. So--but that's while we were doing all the other stuff that people tend to associate with LDF, we were doing that. So sometimes there are these moments when we, we, we have to get engaged and we have to get 'em even though we didn't plan it, and creating that bandwidth is important.