Oral history interview with Martha Bergmark, conducted by Harrison McIver
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Oral history interview with Martha Bergmark, conducted by Harrison McIver, on July 28st, 1992, on behalf of the National Equal Justice Library Oral History Project. Oral history collection, NEJL, Georgetown Law Library.
The interview discusses beginnings of her career in legal services, the situation of legal services in Mississippi during the 1960s and 1970s, opposition of the private bar against legal services, expansion of legal services in the late 1970s, effects of the Reagan cutbacks. Also discussed are Shaw .v Mississippi; The McComb Amendment; Ayres v. Fortise, Brown v. Board of Education; Governor’s veto of OEO grant fund; municipal equalization; and IOLTA funds.
Martha Bergmark, originally from Mississippi, left the state in 1966 to attend Oberlin College. After she graduated in 1970, she went to the University of Michigan Law School where she received her J.D. cum laude in 1973. While she was in law school, she worked as an intern at the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council at Northern Mississippi Rural Legal Services in Oxford, MS. In 1973, she graduated from law school and became a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow working for North Mississippi Rural Legal Services. She then joined a private civil rights law firm in Hattiesburg, MS. Bergmark was one of the leaders who helped organize the expansion of legal services in Mississippi during the late 1970s, and became the founding executive director of Southeast Mississippi Legal Services (now Mississippi Center for Legal Services). In 1987, she and her family moved to Washington, DC, where she worked for Project Advisory Group (PAG) and as the director of the NLADA/Center for Law and Social Policy's Project for the Future of Equal Justice. Under the Clinton administration, she served tenures as executive vice president and in 1997 as president of the Legal Services Corporation (succeeding Alex Forger). Bergmark returned home to Mississippi in 2003 as the founding president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice. Bergmark is the 1990 recipient of the Kutak-Dodds Prize for her civil rights and legal aid work in her home state of Mississippi. In 2003, she was named the Stern Family Fund’s Public Interest Pioneer, an honor which came with a $200,000 grant to launch the Mississippi Center for Justice. In 2010, Bergmark received the ABA Section of Litigation’s John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award, and in 2011, she was honored as part of President Barack Obama's Winning the Future Initiative.
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