Remembering John Payton

The late NAACP LDF president was so effective he once roused Clarence Thomas from his vow of silence.

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Thomas roused himself to question Payton, among all of the lawyers arguing in the Gratz case. It was a respectful exchange about how the support of affirmative action policies at majority white colleges can be squared with support for historically black colleges. In part because of the surprise at hearing Thomas speak, but just as importantly for Payton's calm, clear and response, it was perhaps the most riveting part of the oral argument that day.

An extraordinary leader and lawyer -- a brilliant mind, a member of the family -- has left us.

Sherrilyn A. Ifill is a professor of law at the University of Maryland and a regular contributor to The Root. She was an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 1988-1993.

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