The Benjamin E. Smith Civil Liberties Award

Each year since 1976, the ACLU of Louisiana has given an award to honor one of our founders, the civil rights attorney Ben Smith. The Ben Smith Award honors an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of civil liberties in Louisiana.

In October 1963, Ben Smith was arrested under the pretense that he was a Communist—his actual crime was organizing interracial meetings, working to end segregation, and promoting voting rights. Undeterred by state persecution—and later exonerated by the US Supreme Court—Ben Smith tirelessly carried on his work for the rights of all Americans until his death thirteen years later. This award is given in remembrance of that dedication to justice.

Honorees 1976—2016

Our Ben Smith Award event also serves as the ACLU of Louisiana's annual membership meeting. Members are encouraged to attend if able.

The 41st annual Ben Smith award recipient is Deon Haywood.

Deon Haywood PhotoDeon Haywood is the Executive Director of Women With A Vision, Inc., a New Orleans-based community organization founded in 1991 to improve the lives of marginalized women, their families, and communities by addressing the social conditions that hinder their health and well-being. Since Hurricane Katrina, she has led the organization to a vibrant locally-rooted international network addressing the complex intersection of socio-economic injustices and health disparities.

In 2009, Deon oversaw the launch of WWAV’s NO Justice Project, a campaign to combat the sentencing of women and trans* people arrested for street-based sex work under Louisiana’s 203-yr-old “crime against nature” felony-level law, which resulted in a federal judicial ruling and the removal of more than 700 women from the sex offender registry. Deon was also the representative from the U.S. South to the 2013 Frontline Defender’s Dublin Platform, has testified in front of the United Nations Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and has been honored with numerous awards by groups across the United States in recognition of her leadership at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, harm reduction, LGBTQ rights, reproductive justice and anti-criminalization work.

Currently, Deon sits on the board of BreakOUT!, a youth-led organization fighting the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans and is part of the inaugural class of Public Voices Fellows with the Ms. Foundation (2016).

Deon will be honored on May 18, 2017 with a party and award presentation.

Ben Smith Fête 2017, Honoring Deon Haywood
May 18, 2017, 6 p.m.
Felicity Church, a new event venue
1220 Felicity Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

This year's Ben Smith event features a new and exciting Patron Party. Unlike previous years, there will be no seated dinner. There will be music, specialty food and drinks, and much more! Want to make sure you don't miss any fête announcements? Follow us on Facebook..

Tickets start at $60 for general admission, and $100 for Patrons. Get yours by April 22nd, before the price goes up!

purchase tickets here

*Tickets may also be purchased by mail. Please make your check payable to: ACLU Foundation of Louisiana, PO Box 56157, New Orleans LA 70156. Please indicate on your check the number and type of tickets needed.

Questions? Feel free to contact us at or by phone at 504-522-0617.