Joint Center Updates


Congresswoman Barbara Lee Honored with Louis E. Martin Award

Yesterday, Joint Center Board Chair Barbara Johnson and President Spencer Overton presented Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) with the Joint Center’s highest honor—The Louis E. Martin Great American Award.

“Congresswoman Lee has been a drum major for justice her entire career,” said Barbara Johnson, the Chair of the Joint Center’s Board of Governors. “The Joint Center is focused on congressional staff diversity and the future of work and racial equality, and Congresswoman Lee has made key contributions to both of these areas.”
“Congresswoman Lee is a Great American. She has consistently served as a champion for inclusion in rooms across our nation where major decisions are made, from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.  We appreciate her vision and leadership,”  said Spencer Overton.

As a former intern who rose to Chief of Staff for Congressman Ron Dellums, Congresswoman Lee has been a consistent champion of congressional staff diversity.  For example, this past year the Appropriations Committee passed her amendment to address unconscious bias in hiring and managing congressional staff. As the CBC Member who represents Northern California who co-chairs the CBC’s Diversity task force, she led the CBC delegation on their annual trip to Silicon Valley to push for more diversity in tech.
The award is named after Louis E. Martin (1912-1997), a principal founder of the Joint Center and the first chair of its Board.  Mr. Martin was a leader in the black press (he served as the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and helped found the National Newspaper Publishers Association). He also served as an advisor to Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Jimmy Carter.

In 1960 he helped persuade John F. Kennedy to place a telephone call to Coretta Scott King when Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed, which was credited with helping Kennedy win a significant number of black votes. Mr. Martin was instrumental in pushing for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and in encouraging President Johnson to name Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court. Deemed “the godfather of black politics” by the Washington Post, Mr. Martin leveraged significant influence without calling attention to himself.

“I knew Louis Martin,” Congresswoman Lee said upon receiving the award.  “It is such an honor to receive this award in his name.  When I came to Washington in 1975 and worked for Congressman Dellums, Louis Martin was our main contact in Jimmy Carter’s White House.”

Past awardees include: Secretary of Labor Tom Perez (2016), Past Joint Center President Eddie Williams (2015), Senator Cory Booker (2014), Ambassador Susan Rice (2013), Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (2012), Congressman John Lewis (2012), Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. (2011), Dr. Dorothy Height (2010), Congressman James Clyburn (2009), Congressman Charles Rangel (2008), President William Jefferson Clinton (2007), Muhammad Ali (2006), Vernon Jordan (2005), and President Jimmy Carter (2004).