With Sunday’s news that Benjamin Jealous will be stepping down from his position as NAACP president later this year, the Human Rights Campaign reflected on the legacy of a man who not merely led his organization to embrace LGBT equality, but who transformed the national conversation around civil rights for all Americans.
“Because of the dedication and tireless work of Ben Jealous, this country is more just, more equal, and more hopeful,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “He is nothing less than a modern-day civil rights visionary, and it is my privilege to call him a friend.”
During Jealous’s term at the helm of the nation’s largest civil rights organization, the NAACP formally endorsed marriage equality for LGBT Americans at a decisive moment in the 2012 election cycle. Prior to the NAACP’s announcement, no pro-marriage equality initiative had ever succeeded at the ballot box. But thanks in part to the leadership of Ben Jealous, crucial ballot measures in states like Maryland prevailed for the very first time.
“On my first day on the job as HRC President back in 2012, my very first meeting was with Ben Jealous,” said Griffin. “He believes in his heart that none of us is equal until all of us are equal, and that commitment to justice for all made him an ideal national leader at this decisive moment.”
Jealous was a crusader for economic justice and empowerment, he campaigned tirelessly against regressive laws that disenfranchise minority voters, and he advocated relentlessly for the common purpose of all movements fighting for equality.
The youngest leader in the more than 100-year history of the NAACP, Jealous is a Rhodes Scholar and has spoken about the plight of his interracial parents, who wed before Loving v. Virginia struck down anti-miscegenation laws across the country.
“My parents own marriage was against the law at the time and they had to return here to Baltimore after getting married in Washington, D.C.,” Jealous tearfully explained to reporters while announcing the NAACP’s endorsement of marriage equality last May. “This is an important day.”
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.