June 18, 2020
On Friday, June 19, we are closed for the observance of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. On this day, we recall the long struggle for civil rights and racial equality—a struggle that continues today.
The celebration of Juneteenth dates back to June 19, 1865, when the last of the enslaved black people in Texas learned that the Civil War had ended months earlier and that they were free under the auspices of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. While the proclamation had formally freed those enslaved almost two and a half years earlier—and the Confederate States had been defeated two months earlier—enforcement had been delayed in Texas, the most remote of the slave states.
In observing Juneteenth, we build upon a proud legacy of civil rights advocacy and a commitment to advancing racial justice and understanding. Nearly a century ago, Walter Pollak, a partner at the firm (then known as Cohen, Cole, Weiss & Wharton) persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate the convictions of the “Scottsboro Boys”—four young black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Alabama and sentenced to death—in Powell v. Alabama. At the urging of name partner Lloyd Garrison, grandson of the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, the firm played a leadership role in the Civil Rights movement. In 1949, Paul, Weiss hired Bill Coleman, becoming the first major law firm in the United States to hire an African American lawyer. Coleman and Louis Pollak, the son of Walter Pollak and then a litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, worked closely with Thurgood Marshall and lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to develop the overall strategy for attacking the legality of segregated public education in Brown v. Board of Education. As Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, noted, “Paul, Weiss has always been there for the civil rights community.”