AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As we said, Attorney General Holder spoke today at the annual convention of Delta Sigma Theta. That's a century-old black sorority with a service mission. Members include a who's who of African-American politicians, educators and activists. Among many issues, the group has long focused on improving civil rights. As NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case feels personal for many of the women at the gathering.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: When the news came Saturday night, the DJ at one sorority event turned down the music to announce it. Janet Booker(ph) says her group was just about to take a photo but her face, her whole body, just fell.

JANET BOOKER: I just almost lost it, really, because I've been really following it really close. I'm being a mother of two black boys, ages one and four.

LUDDEN: Booker has come to this convention from Dallas, along with Stephanie Nobles(ph), the godmother of her sons.

STEPHANIE NOBLES: What it said to me was that someone was killed and it didn't matter. You can just go - I mean, you can pursue someone, have a confrontation with them and then when things don't go the way that you think they should, then you can just kill them and feel justified by that.

LUDDEN: The women say they know there were many facets of the case. Booker believes the prosecution made some errors and, of course, they say, the country has come a long way. Witness a black president and black attorney general. And yet, they say, the whole violent episode grew out of one thing that has not changed. As they see it, George Zimmerman racially profiled a young black man and the judicial system has said that's OK.

NOBLES: My brother sent me a text and he referenced the 1960s and he said that, you know, this takes him back to the 1960s, and here we are in 2013.

BOOKER: And I had a Facebook friend that put on Facebook: Remember to set your clocks back 200 years.

LUDDEN: Renee James(ph) is also here from Dallas.

RENEE JAMES: The night it came through, I was in my room alone, so I cried the whole night, till 3 and 4 in the morning.

LUDDEN: James is biracial, but says her two sons have been raised as black.

JAMES: I have 22- and 19-year-olds and one of them is a football player, so he looks intimidating. So, you know, I tell him be careful at all times. Always be aware of your surroundings; never know who's watching you and don't try to confront anybody.

LUDDEN: While others here sigh that they were not surprised by the verdict. Renee James was. She expected the mothers on the jury, even if they were white, to identify with the horror of an attack on an unarmed teenager. If it was not murder, she thought they'd at least see manslaughter. And now?

JAMES: I would love to see America just really change its view. Not all black boys are going to kill you. They're not out to get you. Sometimes they're just going to get a soda and some Skittles.

LUDDEN: Through Delta Sigma Theta, James already helps out with voter registration in her home state of Texas. Now, she plans to step up her political activism and work against the Stand Your Ground law that some say made it easier for Zimmerman to pursue Martin with impunity.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Lift every voice and sing...

LUDDEN: As the sorority members waited to hear from Attorney General Eric Holder, their president, Cynthia Butler McIntyre, issued a statement. She said the sorority is disheartened by the verdict. While the group respects the legal system, she said, the system failed to provide justice for Trayvon Martin and other African-American males. She called on the groups' mothers, sisters and wives to mobilize peacefully to repeal laws she says victimize America's black communities. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.

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