New ACLU of Florida leader says the fight for civil rights is in her genes (2024)

TALLAHASSEE — Saying the country is at a “deeply, deeply disturbing” juncture, Bacardi Jackson — a veteran litigator whose civil-rights advocacy is literally in her genes — is taking the mantle as executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

Jackson started the job Monday amid a growing number of challenges to laws passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

During a wide-ranging interview with The News Service of Florida, Jackson said she views her new position as an opening to spur action at a critical juncture in the history of the state and the nation.

“In my lifetime, I have never seen the barrage of repressive legislation and laws that have passed across our nation, and sadly many of those have been spawned right here in our state. So it is an opportunity to really focus and do something about securing freedom for our state and for my children and everyone’s children,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s activism is rooted in the Deep South, where her parents were civil rights leaders, according to a cover letter submitted to the ACLU’s hiring team in January when Jackson was applying for the job.

Jackson’s paternal grandfather, a sharecropper, built one of Mississippi’s first “substantive” schools for Black children, according to the cover letter. Her father was a strategist behind the voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery, Alabama, which led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Her mother, the granddaughter of Jewish immigrants who escaped persecution in Russia, was a young anti-apartheid activist who, among other things, fought for hot lunches for school children in Memphis. And Jackson’s stepfather was a member of the “Memphis Mobilizers,” a group that helped lead efforts to integrate public schools in the city.

Jackson pointed to her family’s history to illustrate what she characterized as disturbing developments in Florida, such as a 2022 law restricting the way race can be taught in schools.

“There was a point in our history where teaching Black children to read was punishable by death. And if we don’t understand that history, we don’t know how valuable that right is and how urgent it is to protect it when we see our public schools being defunded and decimated and destabilized intentionally,” she said. “I am literally three generations from slavery and you already want to erase that history. That’s problematic.”

Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stanford University and graduated from Yale Law School. She began her legal career in private practice and spent the past four years at the Southern Poverty Legal Center in Florida, where she was deputy legal director for the Democracy: Education & Youth litigation team.

New ACLU of Florida leader says the fight for civil rights is in her genes (1)

Catch up on top stories before rush hour

Become a Times subscriber to get our afternoon newsletter, The Rundown

We’ll break down Tampa Bay’s biggest environment, politics, business, education and culture news every weekday.


You’re all signedup!

Want more of our free, weekly newslettersinyourinbox? Let’sgetstarted.

Explore all your options
New ACLU of Florida leader says the fight for civil rights is in her genes (2)

Jackson succeeds Howard Simon, who served as the ACLU of Florida’s executive director for more than two decades before retiring in 2018 and returning as interim director in August 2023.

Related: ACLU has become too partisan, ousted Florida board members say in lawsuit

Simon called Jackson an “exceptionally well-qualified” hire who comes on board at “an especially dangerous time for civil rights and civil liberties” in the state.

“Never in the decades that I have lived in the Sunshine State has there been a governor and legislature so intent on rolling back every element of progress that has been made for women’s rights, First Amendment rights, voting rights, racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, freedom from government-sponsored religion, and so many other constitutional principles,” Simon said. “That is why I, and the members of our staff, are so thrilled that Bacardi Jackson has been appointed as our new executive director. She is exceptionally well-qualified to lead our talented staff during this critical time in the hard work they have been doing to protect the rights of the people of Florida from assault by their own government.”

Jackson’s personal history — she said she grew up in “abject poverty” and experienced hunger and homelessness — as well as her legal career will inform her approach to the leadership role, she said.

“I’m deeply curious and interested in how laws impact different people. And you know, one of the debates and discussions that I think is kind of in the ether these days is, what is the mission and what does it mean to have civil rights and civil liberties, and whose civil rights and civil liberties, and what happens when they conflict with each other, because everybody believes that they are fighting for their freedoms and rights, right?” Jackson told the News Service.

The ACLU has notched a number of legal victories in challenges to laws passed since DeSantis was first elected governor in 2018. As examples, judges have blocked laws aimed at restricting public protests, limiting how race-related concepts can be taught in colleges and universities and barring noncitizens from participating in voter-registration efforts. The DeSantis administration has appealed those decisions, and the ACLU also is involved in challenges to other state laws.

“The story of racial justice in this country is a powerful story of reckoning with ourselves. And here in 2024, I should not be fighting my parents’ battles, but I am. And at the core of those battles is an insidious continuation of racist propaganda that is the undercurrent of what we are hearing,” Jackson said.

Jackson said she plans to kick-start her new job by exploring areas “where no one is protecting our freedoms.”

“It is really important to have conversations across our state to understand where people are suffering, where our laws are causing them to suffer and figure out what we might be able to do about it,” said Jackson, who has lived in Florida for 18 years. “It can’t just be winning litigation. That would be nice. But with the next election, that can be reversed.”

Jackson also said she wants to launch a “broader campaign” that includes community engagement and activism.

For now, the mother of three teenagers is concerned about what she said is a sense of complacency. When asked, Jackson said she is most fearful of “the decimation of democracy,” which she called “deeply, deeply disturbing.”

“For me, this moment in history is a moment that demands a very loud, active, verbal response. It is a moment where we have got to figure out how to figure out how to translate, for everyone — and particularly for the young people who are inheriting the mess we’re making — the urgency of now,” she said.

Jackson said she wants to appeal to young people to get involved with the ACLU.

“We are excited about all the ways that I believe we can expand our impact. I want to just offer that invitation, particularly to young people who are inheriting all of these decisions and the consequences of them,” she said.

By Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

New ACLU of Florida leader says the fight for civil rights is in her genes (2024)


What is the salary of the CEO of ACLU? ›

Top Salaries
1Anthony D. Romero$747,883
2Dorothy M. Ehrlich$689,086
3David D. Cole$488,113

Who funds the ACLU? ›

The ACLU is non-partisan and non-profit. We do not receive any government funding. Our work is supported by member dues as well as contributions and grants from private foundations and individuals. Gifts made to the ACLU directly fund crucial litigation, communications and public education initiatives.

Who does the ACLU fight for? ›

American Civil Liberties Union. Defend the rights of all people nationwide. Abortion care, trans people's right to live freely, people's right to vote – our freedoms are at stake and we need you with us. Donate today and fuel our fight in courts, statehouses, and nationwide.

What is the conservative equivalent of the ACLU? ›

History. The ACLJ arose in part as a right-leaning political answer to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has a different interpretation of First Amendment protection of religious rights. The name and acronym, ACLJ, were chosen to contrast with the ACLU.

Who is the highest paid CEO in America? ›

The median total compensation for CEOs in the study spiked to $29.1 million in 2023, up over 20% from 2022. The highest-paid CEO in the study is Jon Winkelried of TPG, Inc., whose total disclosed pay package was $198.7 million in 2023. The five highest-paid CEOs were each awarded a nine-figure pay package in 2023.

How much did Elon donate to ACLU? ›

Though Heard and Musk had called it quits by 2018, his relationship with the ACLU continues to go strong. The nonprofit says Musk has donated $6 million to its coffers to date, while declining to clarify to Rolling Stone the timing of his gifts.

Is the ACLU Democrats? ›

The ACLU was directed by an executive committee and was not particularly democratic or egalitarian. New Yorkers dominated the ACLU's headquarters. Most ACLU funding came from philanthropies, such as the Garland Fund.

Does the ACLU support religious freedom? ›

The ACLU vigorously defends the rights of all Americans, from Christians to members of minority faiths, to practice their religion.

How much of ACLU donations go to administration? ›

Eighty percent of the ACLU budget directly supports litigation, legislation and public education programs. Fundraising costs average 12 percent of total expenses, and management and administration account for an additional 8 percent.

Who is the current leader of the ACLU? ›

News & Commentary written by Deborah Archer

Archer is President of the ACLU, where she serves as Chair of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee, the two governing bodies responsible for policy development, financial oversight, and mission-alignment functions for the national organization.

Why is the ACLU representing the NRA? ›

While the ACLU stands in stark opposition to the NRA on many issues, it represented the group to safeguard the First Amendment rights of all advocacy organizations.

Is the ACLU part of the government? ›

The ACLU is nonprofit and nonpartisan. We do not receive any government funding. Member dues as well as contributions and grants from private foundations and individuals pay for the work we do.

Who is the target audience of the civil liberties Union? ›

The ACLU advocated for special government protections specifically for left-leaning demographic and special interest groups such as immigrants, labor unions, LGBT people, the poor, prisoners, and the severely mentally ill.

What campaigns is the ACLU fighting for? ›

Donations to the ACLU are not tax-deductible.
  • Immigrants' Rights.
  • Juvenile Justice.
  • LGBTQ Rights.
  • Prisoners' Rights.
  • Racial Justice.
  • Voting Rights.
  • Women's Rights.

Does ACLU support free speech? ›

The ACLU has worked since 1920 to ensure that freedom of speech is protected for everyone. The Supreme Court Declined a Protestors' Rights Case. Here's What You Need to Know.

Who is the highest paid CEO of charities? ›

In 2022, the nonprofit organization in the U.S. with the highest paid CEO was Sentara Health, with an estimated salary of 33.22 million U.S. dollars.

Who is the current president of ACLU? ›

News & Commentary written by Deborah Archer

Archer is President of the ACLU, where she serves as Chair of the Board of Directors and Executive Committee, the two governing bodies responsible for policy development, financial oversight, and mission-alignment functions for the national organization.

Is the ACLU a good organization to work for? ›

American Civil Liberties Union has an overall rating of 4.1 out of 5, based on over 353 reviews left anonymously by employees. 65% of employees would recommend working at American Civil Liberties Union to a friend and 52% have a positive outlook for the business. This rating has improved by 9% over the last 12 months.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jeremiah Abshire

Last Updated:

Views: 5973

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (54 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jeremiah Abshire

Birthday: 1993-09-14

Address: Apt. 425 92748 Jannie Centers, Port Nikitaville, VT 82110

Phone: +8096210939894

Job: Lead Healthcare Manager

Hobby: Watching movies, Watching movies, Knapping, LARPing, Coffee roasting, Lacemaking, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Jeremiah Abshire, I am a outstanding, kind, clever, hilarious, curious, hilarious, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.