Peering at her television screen, she could see the whole dais during Richard Nixon’s impeachment hearings — a sequence of the same drab business suit repeated one after the other, with each accented by some understated accouterment. A gray suit with a blue tie. A blue suit with a gray tie. A black suit with a brown wristwatch.
But sitting in her family’s living room in 1974, Sherrilyn Ifill’s eyes were transfixed on radiant color: the bright red of Rep. Barbara Jordan’s dress, the brown of her skin. Ifill watched the hearings religiously with her family, inspired by the ways in which the South’s first black female representative waxed poetic on her country and criticized its corrupt leader.
At that time, there was no possible way of knowing just how instructional those moments were.
“It wasn’t as though the men in that room looked like they wanted to listen to her,” Ifill recalled. “They just couldn’t not listen to her.”
Ifill is the president and director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), a role she has held since 2013. But the past two years under the Trump administration have seen a raft of civil rights rollbacks that have transformed the LDF into a rapid-response team for the disempowered.
Ifill and her associate director-counsel, Janai Nelson, said they remember discovering their passions for civil rights work early in their lives. Ifill was reared in a politically minded family and, as a child, desperately wished she had been alive during the height of the civil rights movement.