The HistoryMakers, the nation’s largest black video oral history collection, recently celebrated the career and legacy of Eric Holder, the nation’s first black attorney general.
The historic interview, conducted with numerous prolific figures in attendance, took place at George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium on Oct. 15, with Pulitzer-winning journalist Jonathan Capehart as the moderator.
Julieanna L. Richardson, founder of the 17-year-old HistoryMakers organization, expressed her admiration for Holder during the event.
“I am so pleased with everything,” Richardson said. “I’ve wanted to do a piece on Eric for a long, long time and his story, his wife’s story, the roles he’s played in history, and he’s a wonderful person.”
Holder, who stepped down in April 2015 as the third-longest serving attorney general, was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014.
As the author of the infamous and controversial 2009 speech, “Nation of Cowards,” a call to society’s fear of addressing the history of racism within the U.S., Holder’s legacy on civil matters, law and humanity, continues to warrant global respect.
Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who both served alongside Holder in the Obama administration, lauded the evening as “fabulous” and “fantastic.
BET President and CEO Debra L. Lee, a longtime friend of Holder’s who was in attendance, congratulated him on his accomplishments.
“Tonight was an amazing event to Eric Holder’s life story and to hear his career, not only during this administration, but before and after was just so awesome,” she said.
Holder, born to Barbadian parents in the Bronx borough of New York City as the eldest of two boys, received his B.A. degree in American history from Columbia University in 1973. He then attended Columbia Law School, where he clerked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division before joining the Department of Justice as part of the Attorney General’s Honors Program.
After graduating from Columbia Law School in 1976, Holder joined the Justice Department’s new Public Integrity section and in 1988 was nominated by former President Ronald Reagan to become an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
In 1993, Holder stepped down from the bench to become U.S. Attorney General for D.C. after being nominated by former President Bill Clinton, becoming the first black to ever serve in that position.
“When I got this authority, I had to have the very best,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who recommended Holder for the position. “And there had never had an African-American U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, though we have long been a very black city, and along came Eric.
“There were great stars, but one stood out from the rest,” Norton said.
In 1997, under another nomination from Clinton, Holder became the first black deputy attorney general, the number two position in the Justice Department, working alongside former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
In late 2007, Holder joined then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as a senior legal adviser and on Jan. 20, 2009, was formerly nominated with overwhelming approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee as the 82nd U.S. attorney general, becoming the first African-American to ever serve in the position.
Holder acknowledged that he would miss the administration but is relieved to be “a little more normal again” and glad to spend more time with his wife and children.