Head of national civil rights organization Vanita Gupta, gets NAACP award

Vanita Gupta, center, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, receiving the William R. Ming Advocacy Award July 24, from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, at the NAACP’s 108th Annual Convention July 22-26. (Photo: Vanita Gupta tweet)

The first Indian-American to head the country’s largest civil rights organization, received the Advocacy Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP.

Vanita Gupta who was President Obama’s chief of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, and currently leads the Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella organization, was recognized July 24, with the NAACP advocacy and human rights award at the 108th Annual Convention of the organization.

“Deeply honored to receive the William R. Ming Award from @NAACP. We have so much work ahead, together, in the fight for justice. #NAACP108,” Gupta tweeted after receiving the award. She also delivered a speech at the Convention held in Baltimore July 22-26.

The William Robert Ming Advocacy Award is named after the leading lawyer and social action leader from Chicago, considered one of the architects of the strategy leading to the historic decision in Brown v Board of Education desegregating schools, as well as other landmark decisions. “The Ming Award was created by the NAACP National Board of Directors in April 1974 and is awarded annually to a lawyer who exemplifies the spirit of financial and personal sacrifice that Mr. Ming displayed in his legal work for the NAACP,” says the organization’s website.

“Congratulations Dr. Gupta! Cheered your awesome speech which followed your NAACP Human & Civil Rights Award!,” Tweeted Dr. Ann Hart, president of the Maricopa County NAACP.

“Congratulations to @VanitaGuptaCR on receiving the WVailliam Robert Ming award from the @NAACP for her work & leadership #NAACP108 @NAACP_LDF,” tweeted the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

As the Civil Rights Division chief, Gupta is credited with leading several investigations into city police departments’ conduct on profiling, and also laying down parameters for re-training of law enforcement officials.

When Gupta, 42, took over June 1, as president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and its sister organization, the Leadership  Conference Education Fund, not only did she become the first Indian-American to head the LCCHR, she was the first woman in the history of that venerable organization, to  lead it.

Born in Philadelphia and brought up in several parts of the U.S. and in the United Kingdom, Gupta’s first assignment as a wet-behind-the-ears lawyer, was with the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. From 2001 to 2006, fresh out of law school, she led the legal team, to challenge and overturn wrongful convictions resulting from a drug trafficking sting that sent nearly 10% of the African-American community in Tulia, Texas, behind bars.  Forty African Americans were arrested for selling powder cocaine based solely on the testimony of one white undercover narcotics officer, Tom Coleman, in July 1999. When the first few defendants were given lengthy sentences ranging from 20 years to several hundred years, all remaining defendants pled guilty in exchange for leniency despite the lack of reliable evidence against them.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, giving a speech at the 108th Annual Convention of NAACP July 24. (Photo: Vanita Gupta tweet)

High profile matters that Gupta navigated at DOJ included investigations of the Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Chicago police departments; the appeals of the Texas and North Carolina voter ID cases; the challenge to North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law; enforcement of education, land use, hate crimes, and other statutes to combat Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination, and a host of other issues.

In an interview with Desi Talk earlier this year, Gupta said it is an “unprecedented time of challenge to civil rights.”

“We have an administration that has, even in the first few weeks, undermined civil rights, and threatened people’s idea of what this country is about.”

The country is going to see a “lot” of challenges in coming months and years, she predicted. But “Some of what we did is going to be eroded, but not erased,” she asserted.

“People are very protective of what this country believes in,” she says. “The only way that we can preserve what America stands for is if people are willing to stand up.”

At the Leadership Conference, Gupta has already has an initiative going, Communities Against Hate, that is developing a data base to document hate crime and bullying, connecting victims to each other. “There’s a feeling the Justice Department will not … so we are stepping up,” she told Desi Talk.




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