Deborah Archer, a professor of Law at New York University School of Law has become the first Black person to lead the American Civil Liberties Union organisation’s board.
Owing to experiences spanning right from her childhood, she has always lived a life dedicated to civil rights advocacy.
Her earliest memory of protest dates back to early childhood when her Jamaican immigrant parents who moved their family from Hartford, Connecticut, the suburbs, becoming just one of just two Black families in their new neighborhood, were visited with hostility from their white neighbors to the extent of their new home being vandalized, “KKK” spray-painted across their house and car.
Although at the time age 9, Archer was terrified, and briefly went to live with her grandmother, many thanks to encouragement from her parents to fight back, she learned one of life’s most vital lessons.
“For me, going back into that house was my earliest memory of resistance,” Archer recalls. “Playing in our yard, going to our neighborhood playground — I view all of those as acts of protest, like the small acts of resistance that Black people have engaged in throughout history.”
Now she helms ACLU’s board of directors as its first Black president with expertise in civil rights and racial justice. Upon graduation from law school, her first job was with the ACLU’s national legal department as a Marvin M. Karpatkin legal fellow.
“After beginning my career as an ACLU fellow, it is an honor to come full circle and now lead the organization as board president,” said Archer. “This organization and its critical work has helped shape who I am as a lawyer, an advocate, a parent, a person, and a leader.”
While a student at Smith College and Yale Law School, she recalls participating in and organizing protests in response to racism on campus, the Rodney King verdict, and divestment from South African apartheid. “Through all of those activities, I learned the foundational tools that I use and engage right now.”
Archer replaces Susan Herman as the president of the ACLU’s board, who stepped down after serving 12 years leading the organization’s board. Archer has been a member of the ACLU board since 2009, and a general counsel and member of the executive committee of the board since 2017.
A tenured professor of clinical law and director of the Civil Rights Clinic at New York University School of Law, Archer takes on her new role at a pivotal moment for the ACLU.
Speaking on the reason for taking on the role, she says her children;
“Each and every time they leave the house I am terrified,” says Archer. “It is not enough for me to pray that the world will be kind. I need to fight for my children. For everyone’s children. That is why I am here. That is why the ACLU exists: To build a better future for my sons, and for all of us.”