When Isaiah D. Delemar ’93 was young, he noticed a trend while watching Sunday news programs: Many of the world’s movers and shakers had law degrees. Now an Attorney-Advisor for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Delemar has become one of those influential people — in 2018, he was the team leader and lead lawyer on multiple projects that preserved significant sites in American history, most notably Camp Nelson National Monument, in Jessamine County, Kentucky, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth and life homes, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Camp Nelson was a Union Army depot during the Civil War. A recruiting ground for new soldiers and escaped slaves, as well as a refugee camp for escaped women and children, it became one of the largest Union training centers for African-American soldiers. “Camp Nelson is unique,” says Delemar, “because it is an under-told story of freed men fighting for the freedom of slaves and their families.” Its designation also marked President Trump’s first use of the Antiquities Act (a power that gives the President the authority to declare national monuments by public proclamation).
Delemar’s second big win for 2018 was facilitating the National Park Service’s acquisition of the Atlanta home where Dr. King was born and lived for the first 12 years of his life; previously owned by The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (The King Center), it is now guaranteed perpetual federal protection and resources. As part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, the home features free daily guided tours led by National Park Service rangers and is a popular park attraction.
“Putting these three properties in federal hands ensures they will be preserved for the current generation and future generations,” Delemar says.
While at the College, Delemar was active in the Charles Hamilton Houston Pre-Law Society and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, serving as VP of both — he points out that Charles Hamilton Houston (the first African-American to graduate from Harvard Law School), billionaire philanthropist Robert F. Smith BUS’94 (whose donation to the National Park Foundation facilitated the acquisition of King’s birth and life homes) and King were members of Alpha Phi Alpha as well. After graduation, the native New Yorker headed south to law school at UNC-Chapel Hill and later joined the U.S. Department of the Interior. “Really, no day looks exactly alike,” he says of his work. “You have high-profile matters like these, which have many stakeholders, including the White House. But the average day could be dealing with clients, reviewing contracts, or opining on real estate issues or resolving boundary disputes. Each day is a potpourri.”
Delemar sees the law as a tool for social progress, and these recent acquisitions exemplify that work, as the new designations will promote awareness and drive visitors to these sites of important African-American history. “The National Parks are a treasure,” he says. “The ability to preserve cultural and natural resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people and for future generations is an awesome, awesome mission.”
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