Eva Paterson

The People of NorcalMLK

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Eva Paterson

President - Co-founder Equal Justice Society


Eva Jefferson Paterson has campaigned for civil rights with passion, courage and tenacity for more than four decades.

Paterson is the President and a co-founder of the Equal Justice Society, a legal organization transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts.

Prior to taking the helm of the Equal Justice Society in 2003, Paterson worked at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for twenty-six years, thirteen of them as Executive Director. Paterson led the organization’s work providing free legal services to low-income individuals, litigating class action civil rights cases, and advocating for social justice.

At the Lawyers’ Committee, she was part of a broad coalition that filed the groundbreaking anti-discrimination suit against race and gender discrimination by the San Francisco Fire Department. That lawsuit successfully desegregated the department, winning new opportunities for women and minority firefighters.

Paterson co-founded and chaired the California Civil Rights Coalition for 18 years, and currently serves as the coalition’s steering committee co-chair. She was a leading spokesperson in the campaigns against Proposition 187 (anti-immigrant) and Proposition 209 (anti-affirmative action) and numerous other statewide campaigns against the death penalty, juvenile incarceration and discrimination against lesbians and gay men.

Paterson grew up in a military family in France, England, and southern Illinois. In high school, she traveled the state giving Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. As a junior at Northwestern University, she became the first African American president of student government.


from The Equal Justice Society