FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - Tonight the American Civil Liberties Union honors the exemplary leadership, generosity and dedication of outstanding patrons during the "Tribute to Civil Libertarians" gala event at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
Activists and members meet through Tuesday to Stand up for Freedom and Stop the Abuse of Power at the organization's 2006 membership conference. This evening, members honor philanthropist Peter B. Lewis and veteran ACLU supporters Jules Cohen, Bern Friedelson, Sidney Hollander, Jean H. McCrosky and Samuel Walker.
"Through their continued commitment to civil liberties, these stalwart supporters have helped ensure the freedoms of our democracy for generations to come," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.
As an ardent supporter of the ACLU and member for more than 30 years, Lewis has contributed more than $30 million to the organization, including $13 million for an endowment, with a special fund created to protect personal freedoms; and a generous gift of $6 million in 2004 enabling the ACLU to purchase a building in Washington to house the expanding Washington Legislative Office. Upon completion of renovation, the building will bear his name - The Peter B. Lewis Center for Civil Liberties - in special recognition of his generosity and longstanding commitment to civil liberties.
Born November 11, 1933 in Cleveland, Ohio, Lewis is the chairman of Progressive Corporation, which he acquired control of in 1965 in one of the first leveraged buyouts in history. For the next 35 years Lewis transformed the 100-employee, $6 million company into a full-line auto insurer with 27,000 employees and net premiums written of $14 billion. Today Progressive is the nation's third largest auto insurer.
Lewis, now retired, has challenged many of the nonprofit organizations he supports to improve management, finances, vision, and objectives. Since 1990 Lewis has contributed more than $400 million to various nonprofit organizations.
Tonight's other honorees are all longtime members and supporters of the ACLU:
Jules Cohen's support of the ACLU reaches back at least 50 years to the turbulent period immediately preceding the civil rights era. He is currently a board member of the ACLU of Virginia. The true turning point in his support of the organization came during the controversial Skokie period, when the ACLU took an unpopular but principled stance of support for the rights of Nazi marchers in Skokie, Ill.
Bern Friedelson's membership in the ACLU began almost 70 years ago, when in 1938 he was expelled from his high school for promoting an alternative literary magazine that offended the school's principal. Without delay, Friedelson hopped on a subway and knocked on the door of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who immediately spoke up for him. Friedelson has been speaking up for the ACLU ever since. He served as a steadfast member, a loyal volunteer, an affiliate board member, and finally as a representative to the national ACLU board for more than six years.
Sydney Hollander first joined the ACLU more than 70 years ago, after hearing ACLU founder Roger Baldwin speak at Haverford College. He went on to serve as a member of the ACLU of Maryland's board for many decades, including accepting the very visible role of president during the years leading up to the tumultuous McCarthy era.
Jean H. McCrosky has been a dedicated member of the ACLU for over half a century. Her late husband, Bob McCrosky, a scientist who worked extensively on the Manhattan Project, was instrumental in the founding of the ACLU of South Carolina. Today, at the age of 89, Jean McCrosky carries on the legacy that she and her husband built in South Carolina through her service on the ACLU of Virginia affiliate board.
Samuel Walker has quite literally written the book on the ACLU. Noted author of 13 books, including "In Defense of American Liberty: A History of the ACLU," and "Civil Liberties in America: A Reference Handbook," Walker has been a committed member of the ACLU and scholar of civil liberties for more than 30 years.
Contributing artists and guests at tonight's gala include composer Philip Glass, former Senator Bob Kerrey, political satirist Jim Morris, comedian Greg Proops, and musical artists Deborah Harry and Maxi Priest.
"We're celebrating civil liberties by honoring life-long supporters and featuring spectacular entertainers and special guests," Romero said. "But we can never forget why we exist as an organization. Our purpose is to preserve the protections guaranteed by the Constitution's Bill of Rights. Unfortunately our basic rights and freedoms as Americans are being challenged more vigorously today than at any time in our country's recent past. Our nation's leaders have chipped away at our civil liberties and executed the greatest systematic abuse of power in our nation's history."
Founded in 1920, the ACLU is the nation's premier guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
Headquartered in New York City, the ACLU has 53 staffed affiliates in major cities, more than 300 chapters nationwide, and a legislative office in Washington. Anthony D. Romero has been Executive Director of the national ACLU since 2001; Nadine Strossen was elected president of the National Board in 1991.