Baltimore City

Sherrilyn Ifill set to leave NAACP Legal Defense Fund to focus on book

Sherrilyn Ifill, who for the past eight years has led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund as its president and director-counsel, will step down in the spring to focus on writing a book. Janai Nelson, the associate director-counsel since 2014, will succeed her.

Ifill’s book is about “America’s ongoing embrace of white supremacy,” according to Penguin Random House, which will publish it in 2023. Her 2007 book, “On the Courthouse Lawn,” explored lynching.

Sherrilyn Ifill's new book will be about “America’s ongoing embrace of white supremacy.”

Ifill is a resident of Baltimore and an alumna of Vassar College and the New York University School of Law. She’s the cousin of the late Gwen Ifill, the first Black woman to co-anchor a national newscast.

Sherrilyn Ifill joined the LDF as an assistant counsel in 1988 and later taught at the University of Maryland School of Law. She has been the LDF’s president and director-counsel since 2013 — making her the second woman to lead the organization.


The LDF was founded by the NAACP in 1940, but it has operated separately since 1957.

Ifill declined to comment for this article but said in a statement: “For the work ahead, I am thrilled that Janai Nelson, who has been my trusted partner, will take LDF to even greater heights. I have no doubt that she is the right leader to build upon the strong foundation we have laid over the last several years and Janai will continue to advance the organization’s mission to defend and protect the rights of Americans all over the country.”

During Ifill’s tenure, she launched several lawsuits targeting voter suppression in partnership with Los Angeles Lakers basketball player LeBron James’ advocacy organization, More Than A Vote.

Ifill, a regular on national TV, appeared on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” in 2020 to discuss the events that followed George Floyd’s death while he was detained by Minneapolis Police that year.

“It was believed and said by many that now we have the videos, things would be different. And so I think one of the reasons why the George Floyd video set us off so much was the realization that it’s not different,” she said on the show. “And that’s why the officer could look like that [at the camera]. He wasn’t afraid of being videotaped. He wasn’t trying to hide what he was doing.”

Nelson joined LDF as an intern in 1995 while studying at UCLA School of Law. She did research in Ghana under a Fulbright scholarship and taught and served as dean at St. John’s University of Law.

“As LDF emerges from the profound metamorphosis of the past nine years under Sherrilyn’s leadership, I am honored to steward LDF’s next chapter with the skill, vision, care, and courage that it demands,” Nelson said in a statement.