Long-time civil rights advocate Dr. Raphael Cassimere will receive the 37th Annual Ben Smith Award by the ACLU of Louisiana. This award honors people who have demonstrated a commitment to the advancement of civil liberties in Louisiana. It is named for the late Ben Smith, a founder of the ACLU of Louisiana and a civil rights lawyer who was arrested for his work to end segregation and for participating in mixed-race gatherings.
Dr. Cassimere, a noted expert in Louisiana and African American history, is retired from the University of New Orleans where he served as Seraphia D. Leyda University Professor. A member of the Department of History at UNO, Dr. Cassimere received numerous honors for his teaching.
From 1960-1966, during the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Cassimere served as President of the New Orleans NAACP Youth Council which, under his leadership, was twice voted the top chapter in the nation. During his term as President, the Youth Council organized a successful boycott of more than 30 stores on Canal Street, resulting in the desegregation of restrooms and eating facilities, and leading to hundreds of jobs for African Americans in New Orleans. In addition, he led voter registration and education campaigns, and was arrested for his advocacy on behalf of the rights of African Americans to vote.
Dr. Cassimere's work with the NAACP continued through the 1990's, and includes the award of the Louisiana NAACP's top honor, the A.P. Tureaud Black Citizenship Award. His advocacy for voting rights helped lead to the landmark 1991 Supreme Court decision Chisom v. Roemer, which extended voting rights to judicial elections.
A dinner honoring Dr. Cassimere will be held on March 9. 2013 at the New Orleans Marriott at the Convention Center in New Orleans. The keynote speaker will be State Representative Patricia Smith (Baton Rouge), Chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.