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The Continued Fight for Equality

February 19, 2024

Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
Dr. Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander
Penn Carey Law’s BLSA hosted the 36th Annual Sadie T.M. Alexander Commemorative Conference, which focused on the past, present, and future of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On Saturday, February 17, 2024, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Black Law Students Association (BLSA) hosted the 36th Annual Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander Commemorative Conference, which celebrates the life of Dr. Sadie T.M. Alexander Ed’1918, G’1921, L’1927, Hon’1974, the first Black woman to graduate from the Law School at Penn.

Dr. Alexander was also the first African American to earn a PhD in economics in the United States, in 1921, from the University of Pennsylvania, and, after graduating from the Law School at Penn, went on to become the first Black woman to practice law in the state.

Sadie Conference Schedule 2024 This year’s conference, “The Continued Fight for Equality: 60 Years with the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” explored the enduring legacy of arguably the most important piece of legislation in the 20th Century.

Since 1988, BLSA has held an annual conference to honor Dr. Alexander’s legacy by exploring legal issues that are pertinent to the Black community and committing to progressive legal advocacy.

“We find it timely to speak about the significance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as its core purpose is under attack nearly 60 years later,” said Quentin Mansfield L’25 and David Johnson L’25, Co-Chairs for the conference.

At the Symposium, government officials, scholars, and practitioners explored the Act’s intricacies and expectations for its future. Additionally, Dr. Alexander’s influence on the Act, particularly her role on President Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights, was highlighted.

The Conference concluded with a formal gala at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The keynote address was delivered by Johnathan Smith, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Distinguished Alumni Awards

Deuel Ross L'09 Deuel Ross L'09Deuel Ross L’09, Lecturer in Law at Penn Carey Law, is the Public Sector Alumni Honoree. He is the Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. In that role, he uses litigation and advocacy to ensure equal access to educational opportunities and the political process for people of color. Ross successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, leading the team in Milligan v. Merrill, a Voting Rights Act challenge to Alabama’s discriminatory 2021 congressional map.

headshot of Demetrius Warrick L'10 Demetrius Warrick L’10Demetrius Warrick L’10 is the Private Sector Alumni Honoree. He is a corporate attorney focusing on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, securities and general corporate law. Warrick regularly advises public and private clients in a variety of corporate matters, including strategic acquisitions, divestitures, auctions, strategic investments, reorganizations, financial advisor engagements and joint ventures.

Christina Swarns L'93 Christina Swarns L'93Christina Swarns L’93 will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award. A vocal advocate on race and criminal justice issues, Swarns is the Executive Director of the Innocence Project. She is the Past President and Attorney-in-Charge of the Office of the Appellate Defender, Inc. and former Litigation Director and Criminal Justice Project Director for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, overseeing various areas, including economic justice, education, political participation, and criminal justice litigation. She successfully argued Buck v. Davis in the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging racially biased evidence in a Texas death penalty case.

Symposium Schedule

Panel 1: From Legislation to Litigation: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 in Modern Practice

Leaders from the nation’s preeminent legal civil rights organizations, including ReNika Moore (ACLU), Tona Boyd (Legal Defense Fund), and Damon Hewitt L’00 (Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) discussed how their respective organizations navigated this important legislation through litigation. This panel was moderated by Ben Jealous, President of the Sierra Club and former CEO & President of the NAACP.

Panel 2: Inclusive Visions: Exploring Title VII and Diversity in the Workplace

Corporate attorneys, government officials, and academics, including Counsel Lissette Duran (Paul Weiss), Kalpana Kotagal L’05 (Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), and Professor Kevin Woodson (Richmond Law) discussed the challenges they face and foresee with diversity efforts in the workplace. This panel was moderated by Stephanie Creary, professor at the Wharton School of Business.

Lunch & Learn: Courageous Voices: The Journey to the Civil Rights Act of 1964

This fireside discussion featured leading authors on the inception of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including Professor Nell Painter of Princeton University, and Clay Risen, New York Times journalist and author of The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act. They discussed the behind-the-scenes efforts of individuals who ensured the Civil Rights Act became a reality for Americans.