The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia was saddened to learn of the passing of Darius Swann on March 8, Theodore Gaffney on April 12, and Jerry Givens on April 13, 2020.
Mr. Swann was the lead plaintiff in a landmark 1971 Supreme Court case that authorized federal courts to order busing to fulfill the constitutional mandate that children attend racially integrated schools.
In 1961, Mr. Gaffney, a D.C.-based photographer, photographed the Freedom Riders and risked his life when the civil rights activists were attacked by armed white mobs on the road between Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama and in the Birmingham bus station.
As Virginia’s chief executioner for 17 years, Mr. Givens participated in 62 executions. The exoneration of a death-row inmate he had almost executed and Mr. Givens’s own stint in prison led him to experience a change of heart, and he became an anti-death penalty activist. His 2010 testimony before the Virginia legislature helped stop a bill that would have made accomplices to murder eligible for execution.
Mr. Swann, Mr. Gaffney, and Mr. Givens were black men who bravely spoke out and risked their lives and reputations to promote civil and human rights and racial justice. (Others also risked their lives: bombs exploded in the car, offices, and home of the lawyer who represented Mr. Swann, and the federal district court judge who ordered the school district to institute busing received death threats.)
Mr. Givens’s life also serves as a reminder that it is never too late to change one’s views and extend mercy to others. After leaving prison and taking a job at a company that installed and repaired highway guardrails, he remarked to a reporter, “I’m no longer taking lives. I’m putting up equipment that will save lives.”
Our thoughts are with the friends and families of all three men.