February 2, 2010


Sansone noted for eight decades of advocacy promoting social justice

NEW YORK-93-year-old Mary Sansone, founder of the Congress of Italian-Americans Organizations Inc. (CIAO) and the Community Understanding for Racial and Ethnic Equality, Inc. (CURE), was honored with the 2010 Haywood Burns Award from the New York State Bar Association on January 28 during the State Bar Association's Annual Meeting at the Hilton New York in Manhattan. Sponsored by the Committee on Civil Rights, the award is given annually to an individual whose contributions to New York reflect Dean W. Haywood Burns' commitment to the struggle for equality and justice, while sharing Burns' unique passion as an advocate for civil rights and for empowering the powerless.

The committee honored Sansone, a Brooklyn native, for her decades of extraordinary devotion to civil rights and social justice. Among her many accomplishments, Sansone organized the first community coalition between African-Americans, Latinos and Italians in Brooklyn. She conducted a demographic study in 1977 that exposed the still significant poverty in the Italian-American community, bringing national attention to the plight of these working poor. In 1976, she organized an effort that successfully lobbied Governor Dukakis of Massachusetts to review the famous 1920's cases of Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Venzetti. The result was a March 1977 proclamation that said "the trial and execution of Sacco and Venzetti should serve and remind all civilized people of the constant need to guard against our susceptibility to prejudice, our intolerance of unorthodox ideas, and failure to defend."

"Since she began organizing strikes in the garment industry at the age of 14, Mary Sansone has been an effective civil rights leader for 80 years, with her unmatched ability to inspire others and to build bridges of tolerance among diverse groups of people," said Committee Chair Fernando A. Bohorquez, Jr. of New York (Baker Hostetler LLP). "She is a dynamic individual, and we are pleased to recognize her myriad and long-lasting accomplishments in building a more just society."

Since 1970, Sansone has been the executive director of CIAO, which is committed to promoting racial harmony and strengthening human rights. Through the years, Sansone has developed 22 programs geared toward helping the poor and has assisted people with their problems across racial and religious lines. In 1988, she founded CURE, which is dedicated to reducing ethnic and racial tension while promoting mutual respect and understanding among groups within the community.

A graduate of the Rand School, Sansone is on the Advisory Board of the New York State Division of Human Rights, the New York State Division of Women and several other organizations.

The award is given to honor the significant contributions of the late civil rights lawyer and academic, Dean W. Haywood Burns. From the young age of 15 until his untimely death at the age of 55 while promoting civil rights in post-apartheid South Africa, the former head of the City University of New York School of Law was a leader in the cause of expanding the civil rights of all people.

Previous award winners include: Dr. Parveen Chopra; Donna Lieberman of New York (executive director, New York Civil Liberties Union); and Hon. Cornelius Blackshear of New York (retired, U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York).

Founded in 1876, the 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. The State Bar's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.