October 02, 2015

Markers Honors 13 Courageous Memphis Schoolchildren

For the children who walk the halls of Bruce, Gordon, Rozelle and Springdale elementary schools, few know they follow in the footsteps of 13 of the smallest pioneers of Memphis civil rights history.

On Oct. 3, 1961, 13 African-American first-graders entered these four schools as the first students to desegregate Memphis City Schools. Today, historical markers will be placed at the four schools commemorating the steps of these children and the courage of their families to enroll them.

It is an important acknowledgment of these contributions to our community.

Unlike school desegregation in Little Rock four years earlier, the event in Memphis was orderly and did not make national headlines. Perhaps as a result, the Memphis 13 do not hold the same place in the national consciousness as do the Little Rock Nine. The Memphis 13 have not been honored at the White House or appeared with Oprah; rather, they have been recognized periodically, but have lived in relative anonymity in our community.

View the full article here....

September 24, 2015

"Rhodes Must Fall" and Memphis's Confederate Monuments

Cecil John Rhodes is both famous and infamous in South Africa. He is famous as an arch-imperialist, involved in the colonial expansion in Southern Africa in the late 19th century that generated much of the economic infrastructure that still underlies South Africa today. He is infamous also as an arch-imperialist, involved in the subjugation of native Africans to help drive economic expansion, generating much of the social division that has plagued this country.

When I arrived in South Africa two months ago, I didn't anticipate thinking much about Cecil John Rhodes, who died more than a century ago. Yet the local news was abuzz with coverage of a movement called Rhodes Must Fall.

Furious over a campus display of a symbol of a colonial and oppressive past, black students at the University of Cape Town organized to demand the removal of a Rhodes statue. After a month of protest, the statue was removed by the university. The Rhodes Must Fall movement has spread to other campuses and communities in South Africa and beyond, targeting not only Rhodes but also other figures from complicated pasts.

All of this resonated with a Memphian abroad because of our own experience with a statue of a long-deceased famous and infamous man. There was some comfort in seeing a society 8,000 miles from home grapple with the same difficult issues. Particularly in places with deep histories of division, a universal part of confronting that past is struggling with persistent symbols of it. Freed from my identity as a Memphian, I am able to follow the Rhodes story without my own local baggage and preconceptions.

Read the full article here...

May 16, 2015

No Caste Here? Toward a Structural Critique of American Education

In his famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice John Marshall Harlan argued that in the United States, there was “no caste here.” Justice Harlan was rejecting the idea that American society operated to assign preordained outcomes to individuals based upon classifications, including racial classifications. This Article questions whether Justice Harlan’s aspirational assertion accurately reflects contemporary American education. Identifying: (1) multiple classification mechanisms, all of which have disproportionate racial effects, and (2) structural legal, political, and practical impediments to reform, the Article argues that the American education system does more to maintain the nation’s historical racial hierarchy than to disrupt it. This is so, the Article suggests, despite popular agreement with the casteless ideal and popular belief that education can provide the opportunity to transcend social class. By building the framework for a broad structural critique, the Article suggests that a failure to acknowledge and address structural flaws will preclude successful comprehensive reform with more equitable outcomes.

This article appeared in the Penn State Law Review.  The full article is available here.