KCBA honors Martin Luther King Jr. with fundraising drive, day of service

This month, the King County Bar Association and Seattle legal community are honoring the life of Martin Luther King Jr. with a monthlong fundraising drive and day of service Jan. 15.

The efforts are led by the KCBA MLK Jr. Luncheon Committee, which was founded by the late Philip Ginsburg and The Honorable Charles V. Johnson, J.D. ’57, who died this past month. The committee raises money through an annual luncheon to fund scholarships for minority law students at the UW School of Law and Seattle University.

This year’s fundraising drive directly benefits King County food banks. In place of the annual luncheon due to COVID-19, participants are invited to join a virtual tribute to Dr. King Jan. 15. Participants are also encouraged to watch one of three UW Law alumni and student profiles meant to inspire others to get involved in the fight for social justice, as well as donate to the scholarship fund.

“The committee came to the conclusion that what better way to honor Dr. King than to feed the masses and help people get an education who need help,” said Judge Richard Jones, who chairs the MLK Jr. Luncheon Committee. “Why not celebrate Dr. King’s life by living Dr. King’s life, which is something Judge Johnson did throughout his life and career.”

Since its inception, the committee has raised thousands of dollars that have directly supported hundreds of scholarships for minority students, many of whom are first-generation college and law school attendees, and are now practicing lawyers today.

The committee was founded with a mission to create opportunities for students of color to enter the legal profession — one that has been historically homogenous and has long grappled with challenges to becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive field.

The committee came to the conclusion that what better way to honor Dr. King than to feed the masses and help people get an education who need help.

For Johnson, the project was another example of a lifelong dedication to advancing social justice.

Upon graduating from UW Law, he presided over the revitalization of the NAACP’s Seattle Chapter, which he led for four decades, and he served as a key leader in the region’s civil rights movement.

He went on to a 30-year career as a private attorney and Seattle Municipal and King County Superior Court judge, where he was lauded for bringing diversity and equity to his courtroom through steady leadership and unwavering commitment to the rule of law. He retired in 1998.

“Judge Johnson is hands down one of the most respected judges in this community,” Jones said. “Because he was so active in the NAACP, he knew everyone in this community. If you came to Seattle, you knew who Judge Johnson was, and like the Oracle at Delphi, you’d go to him for advice.

“As a mentor, he never told me what to do. He just gave me a more global perspective on the choices I could make. He would show you the pathways and options for you to come to your own decisions.”

In 1968, Johnson helped found the Black legal foundation, the Loren Miller Bar Association, which today is one of the biggest bar associations in the state. In 1990, Johnson and co-founders Judge Norma Huggins and Judge Leroy McCullough launched the first community Youth and Law Forum program with the support of the First AME Church.

The program brought together more than 200 community youth and guardians; law enforcement; attorneys; state and federal judicial officers; and others each year to provide attendees with fresh, innovative legal perspectives on enhanced safety, education and mutual respect.

“In Judge Johnson’s view, it was always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” McCullough said.

Johnson co-founded the MLK Jr. Luncheon Committee alongside Ginsburg, who was an instrumental leader on the committee and brought a wealth of experience as a celebrated civil rights attorney.

As a lawyer, Ginsburg authored a distinguished career fighting for the rights of underserved and underrepresented communities. He represented marginalized people, civil rights activists, people seeking asylum, and so many others fighting for a more just world.

With his leadership, he helped develop the Washington Defender Association into one of the top public defender organizations in the country, and in 2013, he received the Washington State Bar Association Professionalism Award. He died in 2018.

The committee’s collective mission is just part of the two leaders’ legacies, and it is one that is more important than ever in looking toward a more equitable future for all.

Join the KCBA Jan. 15 to participate and watch the profile videos here:

The fundraising drive benefiting King County food banks and minority law student scholarships is on now: