Over four decades, Martha Bergmark has been a leader in the movement to fulfill America’s promise of justice for all.
Dr. Bergmark is the founding executive director of Voices for Civil Justice, a national communications hub for civil legal aid that launched in 2013. She is a passionate spokesperson for delivering on the promise of equal justice under law, but, she says, we are defaulting on that commitment when most Americans—three out of four—go without legal help to navigate complicated court proceedings that put their families, homes, and livelihoods at risk. She and her staff at Voices tap the awareness-raising power of the media to bring attention to the need for civil justice reform. They have built a 1,200-member 50-state network of advocates and have had a hand in more than 350 news articles and op-eds about civil legal aid in The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NPR, CNN, Fox News, and other media. Dr. Bergmark’s opinion pieces illuminating practical solutions appear regularly in national outlets, and she is a frequent guest speaker, panelist, and trainer.
At Voices, she draws on her career-long involvement as a civil rights and civil legal aid lawyer. She is nationally recognized for her work to build the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) as a 21st century model for using legal advocacy to advance racial and economic justice in her home state. Under her leadership as founding president from 2003 to 2013, MCJ became an influential force for progressive change and scored wins in areas as diverse as juvenile justice reform, access to health care, educational opportunity, and disaster recovery. She continues her engagement with MCJ as board member and senior counsel.
Dr. Bergmark’s childhood connections to the people and events of the Mississippi civil rights movement were formative and put her on a path to Oberlin College. At the University of Michigan Law School, she prepared to return home as a civil rights lawyer, met her future husband, Elliott Andalman, and convinced him to join her. In 1973, they opened a civil rights law firm in Hattiesburg, successfully litigating cases to secure voting, employment, and fair housing rights; and starting the area’s first civil legal aid program, where she was founding executive director. In 1987, they moved with sons Aaron and David to Washington DC, where she served tenures as president of the Legal Services Corporation, administering federal funding to legal aid groups nationwide, and as senior vice president at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.
In recognition of her work in Mississippi and nationally, Bergmark has been named a White House Champion of Change, Stern Family Fund Public Interest Pioneer, Kutak Dodds Prize winner, and ABA Section of Litigation John Minor Wisdom Public Service Award recipient. She holds honorary doctorates from Oberlin College and Millsaps College.