When Drew Days III was a boy attending a segregated elementary school in Tampa, Florida, he never imagined that he would one day help desegregate it. In 1969, as a young attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, he was part of the trial team in Mannings v. Board of Public Instruction of Hillsborough County, Florida. “It’s really something to desegregate your own segregated school district,” says Days. “I could not have been more happy standing in the courtroom.”

The first African-American to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Days, now 74, served as solicitor general under President Bill Clinton. Days fought hard for civil rights and didn’t shy away from controversial positions. Human rights leader John Shattuck says that Days’ career has been marked by “intellectual integrity and a commitment to his own principles.”