The School of Law has a longstanding commitment to the citizens of this state to provide educational and thought-provoking programs that explore issues such as racism, gender inequality, the rule of law and the role of policing.
Over the past two years, the school has partnered with on- and off-campus entities to sponsor high-profile speakers, symposia and even theatrical performances — all open to the public — in an effort to stimulate conversation, foster understanding and break down barriers.
It’s hard to talk about the struggle for civil rights without mentioning the lawyers and judges who were pivotal in expanding those freedoms. In a lecture based on his most recent book, All for Civil Rights, professor W. Lewis Burke told the story of the 168 African American lawyers admitted to the South Carolina Bar between 1868 and 1968 and how they helped lay the foundation for the modern civil rights revolution.
“The sad story of slavery, repression, Jim Crow and segregation remains with us today,” Burke said. “The story of these lawyers’ battle to tear down Jim Crow should never be forgotten.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel spoke about his book, Unexampled Courage, which focused on one of his judicial predecessors, Judge J. Waties Waring. Waring was shocked by a case he presided over in which a black soldier returning from World War II — still in uniform — was beaten and blinded by a sheriff in Batesburg, South Carolina. When the all-white jury quickly acquitted the sheriff, Waring said it was a “baptism of fire,” and he began issuing major civil rights decisions, including the 1951 dissent in Briggs v. Elliott, which challenged public school segregation in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Three years later, the Supreme Court adopted Waring’s language and reasoning when deciding Brown v. Board of Education.
Harvard law professor and Columbia-native Randall Kennedy further discussed both Briggs and Brown during his keynote address for “Reconstruction’s Legacy,” a 2018 symposium hosted by Historic Columbia and co-sponsored by the School of Law, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment. “Reconstruction’s Legacy” not only examined the amendment’s relationship to the African American struggle for civil rights, but also how it might apply to equality for all, regardless of gender, sexuality and physical ability.
Students and the public also heard directly from history-makers themselves, including renowned civil rights lawyer Fred Gray, who visited the School of Law to share his experiences on the Bus Ride to Justice. Gray spoke of his journey from a young boy in segregated Montgomery, Alabama, through the height of the civil rights movement, where he found himself fighting for desegregation, expanding voting rights and representing both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Charleston Hospital Workers Strike, Louise Brown spoke at the Black Law Student Association’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. symposium. Brown was one of 12 employees fired in 1969 for being outspoken about racial discrimination and low pay. Their firing eventually led more than 400 workers to strike, garnering international attention. Brown reminded the audience that while the strike is a thing of the past, the passion that sparked it remains crucial to furthering progress today.
A capacity crowd also came to hear Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and critical race theory scholar, who shared pivotal moments in her life that led her to develop intersection theory almost 30 years ago and explained why it remains relevant today.
“Intersectionality, from its inception, was articulated to capture law’s refusal to see compound discrimination,” Crenshaw said. Ultimately, she said, “The struggles for race and gender justice… are always conflicts over narrative. Who gets the story? Who gets to tell it? What is elevated as true? What is it that gets left out? All of these are the things that shape the way that we think and talk about justice for generations to come.”
Similar messages were heard from multiple powerful female speakers during the Rule of Law Collaborative’s “Women as Agents of Change” symposium. In her keynote address, Mamphela Ramphele, a South African politician and former anti-apartheid activist, remembered the birth of the movement to end apartheid began with a realization. “To be an effective change agent, you’ve got to name yourself,” she said. “If you allow your oppressor to name you, then they control your mind and you can never be free.”
The symposium transcended borders to explore ways all women can be both leaders and beneficiaries of change in areas of human rights education, good governance and justice sector leadership.
Local law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations joined law professors from across the country for community talks as part of the “Law of the Police Conference.” The talks addressed ways to improve relations between police officers and citizens, especially in light of numerous incidents of police brutality against people of color in recent years.
Learning also can come in the form of art, as was the case with two other events. A Passion for Justice, Paul Morella’s one-man play chronicling the life of famed attorney Clarence Darrow, was performed in the Judge Karen J. Williams Courtroom. Most well-known for the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, Darrow believed that the courtroom was a powerful tool for changing social policies. His defenses of freedom of speech, integration and fair labor practices, combined with his attacks on intolerance, capital punishment and abuse of power are as timely today as they were then.
The School of Law also hosted a special screening at the Nickelodeon of On the Basis of Sex, the film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, followed by remarks from South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn and retired Chief Justice Jean Toal.
All programs mentioned above were held between February 2018 and April 2019. All but two, "Reconstruction's Legacy" and "On the Basis of Sex," were held a the School of Law. Thanks to the following, who produced, co-produced or partnered with the School of Law to create these programs: Historic Columbia, and UofSC's History Center (All for Civil Rights, Unexampled Courage, Reconstruction's Legacy); the Center for Civil Rights History and Research (All for Civil Rights, Bus Ride to Justice); The Black Law Students Association; College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (Mary Baskin Waters Lecture featuring Crenshaw); South Carolina Chapter of ABOTA (A Passion for Justice); The Nickelodeon, School of Law Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and Women in Law (On the Basis of Sex).