EJS 20th Anniversary: Our Founding in 2000 and Prof. Charles Ogletree

2020 is the 20th anniversary of the Equal Justice Society. Every week leading up to our 20th anniversary celebration on September 17, we will highlight one year in our history. This week we remember 2000, the year that EJS started to take shape, and Professor Charles Ogletree who was critical to our founding.

Prof. Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

It is humbling to reflect on our origins in 2000 during a time when conservatives celebrated the ascension of President George W. Bush. It is maddening to remember voter suppression in Florida, hanging chads, the Brooks Brothers riot, and Bush v. Gore – John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh were part of the legal team.

During the summer of 2000, a group of lawyers, professors and legal workers met in San Francisco at the home of Professor Stephanie Wildman. We decided that we wanted to start an organization that would effectively fight to advance the rights of the under-represented. We would take on reactionary jurisprudence. We would also make sure that legal scholarship was used in the service of social justice.

When we started 20 years ago, no one wanted to talk about race, in contrast to the present, with white supremacy surging on the national stage, buoyed by the current president and his administration. EJS has been at the forefront of countering this tide of racism, white nationalism, and white supremacy that has swept our country.

We eventually named this group the Equal Justice Society. And over the past twenty years, EJS has grown into a formidable institution. We have formed strategic alliances with law professors, social scientists, Hollywood writers, law students, government officials, labor unions, and many others. We have grown from one attorney housed at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area to nine staff who work daily for a “more perfect union” and world.

EJS President Eva Paterson Video Tribute to Prof. Charles Ogletree

Numerous individuals and institutions were instrumental to the formation of EJS. One of them was Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice at Harvard Law School. “There would be no EJS if not for Tree’s seal of approval in 2000,” said EJS President Eva Paterson. “He vouched for us with funders and opened doors at the Ford Foundation through his colleague Alan Jenkins, who was our champion and gave us one of our first major grants.”

Professor Ogletree served as our first board chair. He chaired our board of directors until December 2007 when he was succeeded by Anthony Solana, Jr.

Professor Ogletree, his wife Pam, and his family are going through a very difficult time right now. Life can sometimes be so unfair and this is a prime example of that truism. Tree is blessed to be surrounded by so much love and support.

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we honor Professor Ogletree and his invaluable contributions to our organization and to the legal community. We wish him, Pam, and their family all the best and send positive energy and love to all helping him navigate this part of his life’s journey.


We welcome sponsorships to our 20th anniversary celebration on September 17, 2020, at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. The evening will include performances by Marcus Shelby inspired by the courage of Harriet Tubman. Please contact Ginger Johnson at gjohnson@equaljusticesociety.org for more information. Thank you!

Founding donors: Elizabeth Cabraser, Jack Londen, Quinn Delaney and Wayne Jordan, Ford Foundation-Alan Jenkins, Sara Ríos, Open Society Institute-Gara LaMarche, Catherine Samuels, John Kowal and Raquiba LaBrie;

Founding board members: Charles Ogletree, John Bonifaz, James J. Brosnahan, Kate Kendell, Tobias B. Wolff, Eric K. Yamamoto, Maria Blanco and Margaret Russell;

Founders: Eva Paterson, Abim Thomas, Susan Serrano, Carrie Avery, Sheila Thomas, Michelle Alexander, Joan Graff, Margaret Russell, Margalynne Armstrong, Shauna Marshall, Angela Harris, Stephanie Wildman, Cheryl Stevens, April Williams and Norm Spaulding