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Martinet Society honors Norman Francis

30th April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Clay Smith
Contributing Writer

Amid dozens of judges, lawyers and law students, the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society, a non-profit organization founded 55 years to-date, honored its co-founder and patriarch, Dr. Norman C. Francis during its Annual Scholarship Gala — a fundraiser that provides scholarships for African-American law students attending Tulane and Loyola universities.

“Tonight marks an auspicious occasion,” said Shantell Payton, President-elect of the Martinet Legal Society and co-chair for the 2012 scholarship gala.

“We celebrate the 55th an­niversary of Martinet, an organization that was created in 1957 solely to balance justice, effectuate change, and promote the welfare of African Americans in the legal profession and in our communities.”

Dr. Francis, the president of Xavier University and the longest tenured university president in the history of the United States, helped found the Martinet Society in 1957 with several other notable civil rights activists. The organization, named in honor of Louis Andre Martinet, the first African-American graduate of Straight University Law School (now known as Dillard University), was established during the unrest of the Jim Crow era, when African Americans were prohibited from—among many things—practicing law. Its primary function was simple, to advocate the rights of African-American practitioners and aspiring practitioners of law. Their mantra — balancing justice, effecting change.

“Dr. Francis is Martinet’s co-founder, a testament to the mission and vision of Martinet, and an inspiration to us all,” said Payton. “Tonight, we honor him for his vision, works, accomplishments, perseverance, years of service and contributions to Martinet and the Martinet community.”

Dr. Francis has held seats on many of the nation’s most influential committees including: The National Committee of Excellence in Education, the National Advisory Research Council of the U.S. Department and Human Services, the National Assessment of Higher Education Program, as well as the National Science Foundation’s Advisory Com­mittee. His prestigious honors are reflective of his dedication and range from several Lifetime Achievement Awards given by various historically Black institutions of higher learning, to the Presidential Medal of Freedom- the nation’s highest civilian award.

Among those who gathered at Gallier Hall to pay tribute to Dr. Francis was Sybil Morial and the Morial family, each sharing fond testimonies of the man they had come to love and admire. Others in attendance were also generous with their kind words and anecdotes. Dr. Francis was moved by their generosity.

“It’s always a pleasure to be thanked and have people express their gratitude,” said Dr. Francis. “This is really an exciting time. I was a young lawyer when we founded the Martinet Society, but I never dreamed that it would flourish the way it has…seeing all the lawyers and the judges. Things that we never thought would happen did happen, but we still have a ways to go.”

Dr. Francis went on to say how the Martinet Society had experienced its share of “ups and downs, good times and slow times,” but that he was encouraged by the direction that the organization was heading in and expressed sincere optimism for its future.

Dr. Francis however, was not the evening’s sole honoree. Kelly McNeil Legier, former president of the Martinet Society was the recipient the coveted Legacy Award, for her contributions as the Director of Member Outreach and Diversity of the Louisiana State Bar Association. The Martinet Society identifies the award’s recipient as “an individual who exhibits exceptional commitment and undying support to diversifying the legal profession…” and “is committed to public service and leadership in the Greater New Orleans community and devotes his or her time, energy, insight, and support to promoting the ideals and spirit of Louis A. Martinet.” President-Elect Shantell L. Payton and others expressed a profound appreciation for Legier and her efforts.

The event concluded with the presentation scholarships to three students: Ashley R. Jones (Loyola Law), Michael Razeeq (Tulane Law) and two-time recipient Brian Cox (Tulane Law). Each recipient was chosen based on an essay they were required to write concerning the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in the eyes of today’s Supreme Court Justices.

Razeeq, a native of Kentucky is studying international law, while Jones of Raceland, La., hopes to one day become a successful prosecutor. A product of Shreveport, Cox plans to follow in the Martinet Society’s footsteps, using his status as an attorney to implement more effective policies that will ensure that African-American students are provided the same opportunities as others.

“I hope to effect education policy through law…my goal is to help kids make it out of their circumstances. We have to change what we value about education.”

Other founders of the Martinet Legal Society of note were Earl J. Amedee, Israel M. Augustine, Louis Berry, Lionel Collins, Robert F. Collins, Nils R. Douglas, Benjamin J. Johnson, Alvin Jones, Vanue B. LaCour, Ernest N. (“Dutch”) Morial, Justice Revius Ortique, Jr., J. T. Powell, James Smith, A. P. Tureaud, Freddie Warren, and Lawrence Wheeler.

This article was originally published in the April 30, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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