The Benjamin E. Smith Civil Liberties Award

Each year since 1976, the ACLU of Louisiana has given an award to honor one of our founders, the civil rights attorney Ben Smith. The Ben Smith Award honors an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of civil liberties in Louisiana.

In October 1963, Ben Smith was arrested under the pretense that he was a Communist—his actual crime was organizing interracial meetings, working to end segregation, and promoting voting rights. Undeterred by state persecution—and later exonerated by the US Supreme Court—Ben Smith tirelessly carried on his work for the rights of all Americans until his death thirteen years later. This award is given in remembrance of that dedication to justice.

Honorees 1976—2016

Our Ben Smith Award event also serves as the ACLU of Louisiana's annual membership meeting. Members are encouraged to attend if able.

The 41st annual Ben Smith award recipient is Deon Haywood.

Deon Haywood PhotoDeon Haywood is the Executive Director of Women With A Vision, Inc., a New Orleans-based community organization founded in 1991 to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being. Since Hurricane Katrina, she has led the organization to a vibrant locally-rooted international network addressing the complex intersection of socio-economic injustices and health disparities.

In 2009, Deon oversaw the launch of WWAV’s NO Justice Project, a campaign to combat the sentencing of women and trans* people arrested for street-based sex work under Louisiana’s 203-yr-old “crime against nature” felony-level law, which resulted in a federal judicial ruling and the removal of more than 700 women from the sex offender registry. Deon was also the representative from the U.S. South to the 2013 Frontline Defender’s Dublin Platform, has testified in front of the United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and has been honored with numerous awards by groups across the United States in recognition of her leadership at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, harm reduction, LGBTQ rights, reproductive justice and anti-criminalization work.

Currently, Deon sits on the board of BreakOUT!, a youth-led organization fighting the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans and is part of the inaugural class of Public Voices Fellows with the Ms. Foundation (2016).

Deon was honored with an award ceremony on May 18, 2017.