Over five decades, Martha Bergmark has been a leader in the movement to fulfill America’s promise of justice for all. Childhood connections to the people and events of the Mississippi civil rights movement were formative and put her on a path to Oberlin College and Michigan Law School. There, 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 Martha was founding executive director. In 1987, they moved with sons Aaron and David to Washington, D.C., where Martha 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 & Defender Association.
Martha is nationally recognized for her work to build the Mississippi Center for Justice 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 scored wins in areas as diverse as juvenile justice reform, access to health care, educational opportunity, and disaster recovery and became an influential force for progressive change. She continues her engagement with MCJ as board member and finance committee chair.
From 2013 until her retirement in 2021, Martha was founding executive director of Voices for Civil Justice, the national communications and media resource for advocates of civil justice reform and civil legal aid. During her tenure, Voices generated unprecedented media attention to the fact that most Americans – three out of four – go without help to navigate complicated court proceedings that put their families, homes, and livelihoods at risk, and her opinion pieces illuminating practical solutions to the civil justice crisis appeared regularly in national media outlets. She continues her involvement at Voices as an advisory board member.
In recognition of her work in Mississippi and nationally, Martha 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.