Best Civil Rights Lawyers

Richard Meadow

Richard Meadow

Richard "Rick" Meadow is an esteemed attorney and legal expert with over 30 years of experience.

Content Last Updated: December 6, 2023

Lawyers have a long-standing tradition of supporting racial and social justice within the United States, litigating historical civil rights cases, demanding accountability for police brutality, and addressing systemic racism.

As we’ve moved into the 21st century, recent events such as the innocent killings of unarmed Black people by police have sparked demonstrations and protests not seen for multiple decades.

The public’s attention has once again turned toward civil rights and ensuring that equality and social justice are maintained and upheld in courts of law.

According to a poll conducted by Monmouth University in 2020, 76 percent of Americans said that ethnic and racial discrimination is a big problem in the United States. When comparing these results to 2016, this marks a 68 percent increase in respondents who believe discrimination is a significant problem.
There have been a number of notable civil rights attorneys over the last years and decades who have left their marks on history, making them pioneers for racial and social justice.

We’re going to explore the lives and notable civil rights accomplishments of some of the best civil rights lawyers in recent history and how their achievements have positively impacted civil rights within the United States.

Fred Gray

Fred Gray is a prominent civil rights attorney from Alabama who has represented historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. He is known for litigating several major civil rights cases in the state of Alabama, such as the Browder v. Gayle case that ended up reaching the United States Supreme Court.

In 2001, he was elected president of the Alabama State Bar, making him the first African American to serve in that position. Fred was also president of the National Bar Association in 1985.

Notable Civil Rights Accomplishments

Gray rose to prominence during the civil rights movement after he began working with Martin Luther King Jr. and E.D. Nixon. During some of his earliest cases where he was a solo practitioner, he defended both Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin after they were charged with “disorderly conduct” when they refused to sit in the rear of a segregated city bus.

Fred also argued the Dixon v. Alabama case in 1961, which resulted in the establishment of due process rights for public university students, and the Williams v. Wallace case in 1963, which protected the individuals marching from Selma to Montgomery.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public school segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, Fred successfully represented students James Hood and Vivan Malone, who were denied admission to the University of Alabama.

Another one of Fred Gray’s famous cases was representing plaintiffs in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that took place from 1932 to 1972. This was a study conducted on African American males who were subjected to untreated syphilis while thinking they would be receiving funeral benefits and free health care. Gray successfully obtained a settlement in the amount of $10 million for the medical treatment of 72 subjects who were still living out of the original 399.

All in all, Fred Gray’s accomplishments and contributions to civil rights in the United States have been notable and significant throughout the years, especially during the civil rights movement.
Gray is considered to be one of the best civil rights lawyers in recent history and a pioneer for social justice and racial equality in the United States.

Benjamin Crump

Benjamin Crump is one of the best civil rights lawyers of the 21st century. He represented Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Michael Brown, the individuals poisoned in Flint, Michigan, during the water crisis, and the 2019 Johnson & Johnson talcum baby powder case, arguing it led to ovarian cancer diagnoses.

Crump became the lawyer for the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, and George Floyd in 2020 and continues to take on cases revolving around police brutality within the United States and around the world.

Notable Civil Rights Accomplishments

Crump has been known for representing numerous African Americans in police brutality and wrongful death cases and has been a strong advocate for social justice and racial equality throughout his law career.

In 2002, he represented the family of Genie McMeans, Jr., who was an African American driver who died after being shot by a white state trooper. Several years later, in 2007, Crump also represented the family of Martin Lee Anderson, who was an African American teenager who lost his life after being beaten by guards within a youth detention facility in Florida.

Since that time, Benjamin Crump has continued representing numerous African Americans to promote social justice, racial equality, and the importance of civil rights in the United States today.

Early in 2020, Crump worked with the family of Ahmaud Arbery, who was an unarmed 25-year-old man that was murdered by two white civilians. Breonna Taylor’s family also retained Crump for their family’s lawsuit after she was fatally shot in Louisville, Kentucky, by multiple police officers who forced entry into her apartment during an investigation.

Beginning in May 2020, Crump represented the family of George Floyd, who was a 46-year-old African American who was unarmed and murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department by officer Dereck Chauvin. The George Floyd incident sparked national outrage after Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

When it comes to racial equality and fighting against police brutality, Benjamin Crump has been one of the best civil rights lawyers in recent years due to the high-profile cases he has personally fought and represented.
Crump continues to take on cases involving civil rights and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in a recent annual list put together by Time magazine.

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Antonio Romanucci

Antonio Romanucci is a prominent Chicago civil rights lawyer known for his unwavering commitment to justice and tireless advocacy for victims of civil rights violations and police misconduct. With a legal career spanning several decades, Romanucci has become a recognized figure in the fight for civil rights in the United States. He earned his law degree from The John Marshall Law School and co-founded the law firm Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, where he continues to serve as a partner.

Notable Civil Rights Accomplishments

Throughout his career, Antonio Romanucci has taken on numerous high-profile cases that have garnered national attention. One of his most notable cases involved representing the family of Freddie Latrice Wilson, who was shot 18 times by the Chicago police. Romanucci played a pivotal role in exposing the circumstances surrounding McDonald’s death and helped secure a $4.5 million settlement.

Antonio Romanucci also made a significant impact in the legal battle for justice in the George Floyd case. As a highly respected civil rights lawyer, he joined the legal team representing the family of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose tragic death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in 2020 ignited nationwide protests and calls for police reform. Romanucci’s expertise and dedication to the case were instrumental in holding the officers involved accountable for their actions. His work, alongside Ben Crump and other attorneys, helped secure a historic conviction of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer responsible for George Floyd’s death, on charges of murder and manslaughter. Beyond securing this landmark verdict, Romanucci’s involvement in the case has contributed to the ongoing national dialogue on policing, systemic racism, and the urgent need for comprehensive civil rights reforms in the United States. For his work on the case, Romanucci was also named Person of the Year by Chicago Lawyer in 2021.

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall was an American civil rights activist and lawyer who is best known for using the courts to dismantle segregation within the United States and fight Jim Crow.

Due to his influence and civil rights success, Thurgood Marshall is one of the best civil rights lawyers in recent history and became the first Black United States Supreme Court Justice.

Notable Civil Rights Accomplishments

Upon graduation, Marshall started his own private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, and began his affiliation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which would last 25-years. This partnership started after Marshall represented the NAACP in a law school discrimination suit, Pearson v. Murray, in 1934.

Over the years, Marshall became one of the nation’s leading attorneys and ended up arguing 32 cases before the United States Supreme Court, of which he won 29.

Some of Thurgood Marshall’s most notable cases include:

His landmark case was Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, where the United States Supreme Court ruled that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal.

To this day, Marshall’s work on civil rights litigation continues to shape social justice and racial equality, setting an example for attorneys around the world.

Marshall’s work and notable achievements make him one of the best civil rights lawyers in our modern era, and his accomplishments are an inspiration to individuals all over the world.

Johnnie Cochran

Johnnie Cochran is a notable civil rights attorney who is known for leading the defense and criminal acquittal of the O.J. Simpson case. Throughout the years, Cochran also represented actor Todd Bridges, rapper Tupac Shakur, singer Michael Jackson, and rapper Snoop Dogg.

Notable Civil Rights Accomplishments

Johnnie Cochran was inspired by Thurgood Marshall and his legal victory in the Brown v. Board of Education case; it was at this moment that Cochran realized he wanted to dedicate his life to practicing law.

When he began his legal career, he was first the deputy city attorney for the city of Los Angeles, then moved into the criminal division. Shortly afterward, he founded his law firm titled Cochran, Atkins, & Evans and handled several criminal and civil cases. Cochran was named Criminal Trial Lawyer of the Year in February 1977 by the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Bar Association. One of Cochran’s notable achievements is being the first African American to hold a position as assistant district attorney within Los Angeles County. He held this position from 1978 to 1980.

As he progressed in his career, Johnnie Cochran took on some of his most well-known trials, such as the O.J. Simpson murder case, actor Todd Bridges regarding his attempted murder charges, and even Tupac Shakur, the rapper, on his weapons charge.

Constance Baker Motley

Constance Baker Motley, also known as the Civil Rights Queen, was an American lawyer who advocated for the civil rights movement and became the first African American woman to hold the position of a federal judge from 1966 to 2005.

Notable Civil Rights Accomplishments

Constance Baker Motley is known for her strong advocacy for civil rights, social justice, and racial equality. Before she finished law school, Motley joined the Legal Defense and Educational Fund within the NAACP, giving her the opportunity to work with Thurgood Marshall directly.

Throughout her tenure as an associate counsel and staff member, she managed to win nine civil rights cases that were argued before the United States Supreme Court. One of these cases included the James H. Meredith case and her right to admission to the University of Mississippi.

From the years 1964 to 1965, Motley served in the New York State Senate for a full term and later became the first woman city borough president. Lyndon B. Johnson ended up nominating her to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1966, where she was the first Black woman to become a federal judge. In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

John Burris

John Burris is a notable civil rights attorney who is known for his work representing police brutality plaintiffs as well as his advocacy for racial equality and social justice. He has represented multiple notable clients such as Latrell Sprewell, Barry Bonds, Keyshawn Johnson, and Tupac Shakur.

Notable Civil Rights Accomplishments

When he first started his law office in 1985, Burris was primarily focused on criminal defense cases. This quickly changed over the next several years, when Burris began to emphasize civil rights litigation related to police brutality and sexual, racial, and employment discrimination.

One of his most notable cases was a police brutality lawsuit against four officers in the Oakland Police Department known as “the Riders.” This case ended up settling for $10.9 million, involved 119 plaintiffs in 2003 and resulted in major reforms within the Oakland Police Department.


Burris is also known for his work on various lawsuits against FedEx and United Parcel Service (UPS) over racial discrimination on a systemic level.

Leaving a Historical Civil Rights Legacy

We’ve walked through the lives and accomplishments of some of the best civil rights lawyers in recent history, including the historical civil rights legacy they left when it comes to social justice, racial equality, and fighting against police brutality.

Fred Gray’s work in representing Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and the numerous victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis study has made a drastic impact on racial equality going into the 21st century. If it weren’t for attorneys like Gray, the civil rights landscape in the United States, as well as the world, may have looked drastically different.

Benjamin Crump’s accomplishments in recent decades and his consistent fight against police brutality and wrongful killings of African Americans have led the charge toward promoting social justice and advocating for social movements around these issues. Crump has been instrumental in the fight for civil rights and equality.

Thurgood Marshall and his notable achievements against Jim Crow laws and the dismantling of segregation have played an important role in racial equality that carries forward through today.

Each of these figures has left a lasting legacy, impacted the United States and the world, and left an excellent example of how some of the best civil rights lawyers in our modern day and age make progress on social justice and racial equality, even if the path is a difficult one.

We can all take inspiration from their achievements and do our best to support civil rights and equality in every way possible, further advocating for peace and justice for all.

Are you a victim of police brutality looking for legal guidance? Police Brutality Center can help connect you to a civil rights lawyer to help you pursue justice.
Citation Links
MLA
Richard Meadow. "Best Civil Rights Lawyers." Police Brutality Center, Police Brutality Center, 1 July 2022, https://policebrutalitycenter.org/civil-rights/best-civil-rights-lawyers/