The University of Michigan’s 2016-17 Wallenberg Medal will be awarded to civil rights lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson at 7:30 p.m. March 7, 2017, at Rackham Auditorium. After the medal presentation, Stevenson will give the 25th Wallenberg Lecture.
Stevenson is committed to serving the legal needs of the poor in the Deep South. He has represented death row prisoners since 1985, when he was a staff attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.
He is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization he founded in 1989 that focuses on social justice and human rights in the context of criminal justice reform in the United States.
EJI litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct.
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Under Stevenson’s direction, EJI has handled hundreds of cases and spared the lives of 125 death row prisoners. Stevenson’s arguments have convinced the U.S. Supreme Court that juveniles in non-homicide cases may not be sentenced to life without parole. He is creating a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, to commemorate the more than 4,000 persons who were lynched in 12 southern states between 1871 and 1950.
Stevenson is a professor of law at New York University, where he prepares students to consider the legal needs of those in resource-deprived regions. He has been a visiting professor of law at the U-M Law School.
He wrote the prize-winning book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” and has won numerous awards and honors, including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award Prize, the ACLU National Medal of Liberty, the Olaf Palme Prize for international human rights, the Gruber Prize for International Justice and the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award.
For a quarter century, the Wallenberg Medal and Lecture program has honored individuals who, through their lived commitment to human rights and humanitarian principles, reflect the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg. A 1935 graduate of U-M’s College of Architecture, Swedish diplomat Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews near the end of World War II.
In 1944, at the request of Jewish organizations and the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg on a rescue mission to Budapest. Over the course of six months, Wallenberg issued thousands of protective passports and placed many thousands of Jews in safe houses throughout the besieged city.
He repeatedly risked his life to confront Hungarian and German forces, securing the release of Jews and placing them under the protection of the Swedish government.