Civil Rights Pioneers
J.R. Clifford and Joel Elias Spingarn
Issue Date: February 21, 2009
City: New York, NY
Printed By: Avery Dennison
Printing Method: Photogravure
Perforations: Serpentine die cut 10 ¾
J.R. Clifford (1848-1933) was a lawyer, publisher, Civil War veteran, and civil rights activist. Born to “free blacks,” he published The Pioneer Press, the nation’s longest-running weekly newspaper dedicated to African American issues.
Clifford was the first black lawyer admitted in West Virginia. He won a landmark civil rights case in 1898. In Williams v. Board of Education, Clifford successfully argued against a decision to shorten the school year for black children while keeping a full term for whites. It was the first ruling declaring racial discrimination illegal. The decision led to equal school terms for black students and equal pay for their teachers.
Joel Elias Spingarn (1875-1939) established the Heart of Hope Club in Amenia, New York, in 1910. The Club offered free meals and recreation for local African Americans.
That same year, Spingarn read a newspaper article about Steve Greene, an African American who accidentally killed his white landlord in self-defense. Spingarn immediately sent $100 to his defense fund. When the NAACP heard of his interest, they invited him to join them and he soon became one of their first Jewish leaders. Spingarn’s words, “I have a dream...of a unified Negro population” are believed to have inspired Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 speech.