On June 21, 1963, President John F. Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy met with 250 leading American lawyers in the East Room of the White House to discuss the role lawyers could and should play in the deepening civil rights crisis. The nation recently had been shaken by television and news accounts of police-led violence against peaceful demonstrations led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and by the spectacle of U.S. Army intervention to enforce court orders requiring the University of Alabama to admit Black students against a defiant Governor Wallace. President Kennedy noted the special role that lawyers have played in the creation and maintenance of our constitutional system of government and the rule of law. The President, Vice President and Attorney General made a special appeal to the lawyers to mobilize the voice and work of the legal profession to support the struggle for civil rights in the nation. From this meeting, the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law was formed.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Association was formed in 1968 in the midst of riots in Northern cities, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and the findings of the Kerner Commission report (concluding that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal”). Funded with a grant from the Ford Foundation and contributions from major local law firms, the Committee became the first of eight local affiliates of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. President Kennedy’s vision of the legal profession mobilizing its tremendous resources to support peaceful progress in civil rights had come home to his birthplace.
In 1973, the Committee became the first pro bono project of the Boston Bar Association. It is the only Lawyers’ Committee in the nation affiliated with a major bar association. Although the Lawyers’ Committee separately incorporated and received its own 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, it maintains strong ties with the Boston Bar Association.