New England Area Conference Launches Civil Rights Hall of Fame

By Witherspoon, Famebridge | The Crisis, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

New England Area Conference Launches Civil Rights Hall of Fame


Witherspoon, Famebridge, The Crisis


This summer, leaders of the New England Area Conference (NEAQ of the NAACP launched the association's first virtual Civil Rights Hall of Fame. The state conference now hosts a Web site commemorating the lives and human rights work of men and women throughout New England who might otherwise go unnoticed.

The national office has been so taken with the project, that it plans to use the Hall of Fame as a model for itself, branches and state conferences nationwide.

"Leaders throughout New England have played significant roles in furthering the evolving democracy of our nation through civil rights advocacy," said Juan M. Cofield, president of NEAC. "The mission of the New England Civil Rights Hall of Fame is to pay tribute to some of the major contributors to the civil rights struggle who have lived or worked in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont."

In June, nearly 400 NAACP members and supporters attended NEACs inaugural Hall of Fame fundraising dinner held in Newton, Mass., honoring the region's first inducted civil rights pioneers.

The inductees included Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and former Sen. Edward W. Brooke (R-Mass.). Posthumous inductees included Kivie Kaplan and Ermino P. Lisbon, who were chosen for their years of tireless and often undocumented efforts to bring justice and fairness to their communities.

"When we thought of founding the Hall of Fame, we wanted it to reflect both the living and the deceased; we wanted it to signal diversity - Black, White and Jewish members of our communities. And because this was the inaugural launch of the Hall, we wanted highly recognizable names who had made outstanding contributions," Cofield said.

Kennedy, who has been battling cancer, is known for championing civil rights. Brooke, from Boston, made history in 1966 when he became the first Black elected senator since Reconstruction.

Kivie Kaplan, a Boston-born former president of the NAACP, was a businessman and community activist concerned about improving human relations, particularly for the African American and Jewish communities. His efforts made him well-known among civil rights advocates throughout the country, especially after he was elected to the NAACP National Board in 1954. Shortly before that, Kaplan was named chair of the Life Membership Committee. Through his efforts, the association's life memberships swelled from a few hundred to more than 55,000 nationally. He quickly became known as Mr. Life Membership.

"He was motivated by a great passion for justice," said Edward Kaplan, Kivie's son. "He was also a businessman and believed that it was vital to support the NAACP with money. He would often say, 'Freedom is not free.'"

Barbara Lisbon, daughter of recipient Ermino "Ed" Lisbon, described her father as "a silent giant" who was always fighting for civil rights. Born in Newport, R.J., he was an educator, organizer and accomplished parliamentarian, who experienced discrimination as a soldier in World War ?. Bothered by the Army's strictly enforced segregation, he quickly applied for and eventually earned his commission. …

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