Key voting rights official dies Feb. 3

Published 4:54 am Sunday, February 18, 2024

A Civil RIghts Division Leader who worked in Selma during the 1965 Voting Rights Act recently passed away.

Stephen J. Pollak, who died on Feb. 3, was the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division. Pollak’s first duties in the role came on March 7, 1965, a day historically known as  “Bloody Sunday.” The incident eventually led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Pollak’s role was to ensure that state and local officials complied with a federal court order that permitted the demonstrators to proceed to the state Capitol in Montgomery.

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“I met with the leaders of the march to understand what their plans were and understand what they were doing to ensure the safety of the marchers,” Pollak said at the time.

Pollak also said that he used those conversations to “prepare for possible interference.” He later helped negotiate the final draft bill of the Voting Rights Act with Senators Mike Mansfield and Everett Dirksen.

During the Civil Rights Division’s 65th Anniversary in Dec. 2022, Pollak said he was not a one-man show. 

“I did not do it alone. I served with great people in the Division, led by first Burke Marshall and then John Doar,” Pollak said in his speech. “There were outstanding people then and there are outstanding people now. It’s a great honor to serve in the Department. I think it was the best of my career. ”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division worked with Pollak at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Clarke said that Pollak’s time in Selma shaped the course and trajectory of his career.