County Executive Ed Day and Commissioner of Human Rights S. Ram Nagubandi today announced that seven individuals have been inducted into the Civil and Human Rights Hall of Fame during the 12th Annual Civil Rights Hall of Fame luncheon in Nyack. The 2014 inductees were selected from a list of distinguished nominees selected by the Human Rights Commission for making significant contributions to the advancement of equality, diversity, human rights and civil rights in Rockland County.
“Today we honor seven individuals who have stood for equality in our county’s history, even in the face of adversity,” said County Executive Ed Day. “These champions of freedom have paved the way for equal rights among all local residents. This year’s inductees have acted on their convictions and truly made a difference in our communities.”
“Thanks to the tremendous efforts of our inductees, Rocklanders can proudly say we live in one of the most diverse counties in the state and are part of a community that promotes equality, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin,” said Commissioner Nagubandi.
The 2014 Rockland County Civil and Human Rights Hall of Fame honorees:
Harry Edelstein: (posthumous) Often called “The People’s Attorney,” Harry Edelstein was an ardent advocate for civil and human rights in Rockland County. He moved to Rockland County in 1955 and opened a storefront law office in Haverstraw, practicing mostly criminal defense and general trial law. In 1965, Harry represented three teenagers in their appeals to guilty pleas after being charged with stealing $2 worth of apples from an orchard. The teens were sentenced to 30 days incarceration and ordered to pay a $25 fine. Since they could not pay the fine, the incarceration increased to 55 days. Harry took their case pro bono and argued that they deserved legal representation. The appeal made it to the Court of Appeals, which overturned the conviction. This ruling led to the creation of the Rockland County Public Defender Office, as well as Governor Nelson Rockefeller singing a law guaranteeing the state would provide a lawyer for people charged with misdemeanors.
Irving Feiner: (posthumous) In 1949, Irv Feiner stood on a soapbox to speak out against racial discrimination. Saying he feared a riot, a police officer urged Mr. Feiner to step down. Feiner refused and was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. He was later found guilty by a judge and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The conviction was upheld by two New York State appellate courts. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the suit by a 6 to 3 majority. “I understand that people in totalitarian countries must obey arbitrary orders,” wrote Justice Black. “I had hoped that there was no such duty in United States.” The court abandoned the approach that the expression of mere ideas themselves could be punished as fighting words leading to breaches of the peace. Irving Feiner spent the better part of his life supporting the civil rights of all people and often to his own detriment.
Judith Johnson: Judith Johnson has advocated for the principles of school desegregation. Her mission throughout her career has been support for children living in poverty and their right to an equal education.
Earl Miller: Earl Miller established the Social Justice Award Celebration as a prelude to the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday. This annual event has resulted in grassroots volunteers living Dr. King’s mission of “Building the beloved community” by supporting local churches, health organizations and other community groups.
Dwaine Perry: Chief Dwaine Perry belongs to the Ramapough Lenape Nation. He has led a lifelong struggle to ensure official government recognition of the Lenape people.
Bayard Rustin: (posthumous) Bayard Rustin is a master strategist and tireless activist. He is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Martin Luther King. Jr. into international symbol of peace and nonviolence. On November 20, 2013, President Barack Obama bestowed a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom – the nation’s highest civilian honor – on Rustin.
Steve White: Steve White works tirelessly for justice and reconciliation. Steve became active with the Spring Valley Concerned Citizens, a group of environmental justice advocates, working to stop increased pollution in the Village of Spring Valley. In 2006, Steven became active with the group East Ramapo Stakeholders for Public Education, became chairman of the organization 2009.
The Rockland County Civil and Human Rights Hall of Fame was designed to raise public awareness about human rights issues and to foster an environment for discussion and education regarding Rockland’s civil rights history and ongoing challenges.