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Released on Oct 5, 2023
Alumni Spotlight: Avery Friedman ’72 Recognized with Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s President’s Award
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Avery Friedman

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference recognized Cleveland State University College of Law alumnus, Adjunct Professor and Hall of Fame member Avery Friedman ’72 with its President’s Award, the Conference’s highest honor.  Friedman received the honor for his decades of work championing the fight for equality as a civil rights attorney.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) is a civil rights organization closely associated with its first president, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The SCLC’s roots trace back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 sparked by Rosa Parks’ arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on the bus. The SCLC’s mission is to bring about the promise of “one nation, under God, indivisible” together with the commitment to activate the “strength to love” within the community of humankind.

Friedman recently received the award at the SCLC’s Annual Convention held in Washington D.C.  The conference commemorated the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Receiving the highest award given by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization founded by Dr. King, was a truly incomparable experience,” stated Friedman.  “While I acknowledge that the backdrop of the time and event tells the general story, being personally surrounded by the well-wishing from hundreds of members of the clergy and celebrated civil rights leaders was as electrifying as it was humbling. Imagine being part of an event in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial. I could not have understood until I got there that it was a lot bigger than I could have imagined.”

Also speaking at this year’s event was Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., Chairman of the SCLC National Board of Directors.  Lafayette accompanied Dr. King to Memphis in 1968 before leaving to return to Atlanta to tend to SCLC business shortly before Dr. King’s assassination. 

“This is profound and humbling honor,” said Friedman in his acceptance speech.  “It is no more humbling than to be in the presence of this large group of distinguished ministers and guests here in Washington, D. C. on the eve of the 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King's ‘I Have a Dream’ speech delivered here in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial.”

Friedman, described as a “walking reference source” on civil rights by The Wall Street Journal, is a nationally recognized civil rights lawyer. A weekend legal analyst for CNN, he has lectured on federal civil rights law at more than three dozen law schools.  Friedman has appeared as an expert on civil and constitutional rights before both the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

In his acceptance speech at the SCLC convention, Friedman stated that soldiers in the “American Army of Equality”, must stand against the evils of hatred, intolerance and anarchy.  He thanked CSU|LAW Dean Lee Fisher and CSU|LAW for the recent opportunity to instruct a course on federal civil rights law and teach “the next generation of those who will serve in the American Army of Equality and will fulfill the command and grand aspiration of fulfilling the nation's promise of equality.”

It is more than five decades ago that Friedman was a student in the halls of Cleveland State University College of Law during the heart of the Civil Rights Movement.  Reflecting back on where the movement was then, where it is today, and his role during that journey, Friedman is enthusiastic about the progress he and countless others have made while recognizing the work is never complete.

“50 years ago, many of the federal civil rights statutes were still in their relative infancy,” explained Friedman. “The task was to be part of a national litigation fighting force to expand the breadth of their coverage and interpretation in what was virtually the Wild West of federal litigation. Hate-filled people wind up doing things that seemed incomprehensible then and seem incomprehensible now. You just have to stand up against that. Couple litigation with appearing before Congressional committees to urge civil rights statutory expansion and lecturing to law students at nearly 40 law schools to pick up the gauntlet turned me into sort of a civil rights Johnny Appleseed. As much as one person can do, I feel the roller coaster ride (fighting for equality) is no less exciting today than it was at the start.”

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