Thursday, March 12, 2009

Law Touched Our Hearts

One of the great delights in being at St. Paul's is being surrounded by smart, wonderfully creative people. And so it is with great pleasure I am highlighting today a new book just published by my friend Midred Wigfall Robinson, who also happens to be our senior warden this year. 

Mildred is a University of Virginia law professor, and her book, Law Touched Our Hearts, is a collection of short personal essays from the generation whose lives were changed by the Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education of Tokeka, Kansas, the monumental landmark opinion that required the desegregation of the schools. 

Here is how Mildred and her co-editor, Richard J. Bonnie, explain the title of their book:

In February of 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited Chief Justice Earl Warren to dinner at the White House. Among the guests were well-known opponents of school desegration, including John W. Davis, the lawyer who had recently presented the states' argument for upholding segregated schools before the Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education of Tokeka, Kansas. In his memoirs, Warren notes he "was the ranking guest, and as such sat at the right hand of the President and within speaking distance" of Davis. During that evening, Eisenhower famously commented to Warren that "law and force cannot change a man's heart."
But the law did change hearts. Not long after, the Court handed up its decision in Brown. Segregation did not fall easily, but it began to collapse with that decision.  The country began to change, and so did individual lives. 

Mildred and her colleague asked 5,000 of her colleagues in law schools from around the nation to write essays on how their lives were changed and their hearts touched, and not from the point of view of lawyers writing about the law, but as human beings living in a land undergoing tremendous change. All of them attended public schools as children.  Mildred and Bonnie call them "the Brown generation." They note that much has been written about the impact of the decision on schools, and on the dismantling of segregation and the law itself. 
"But what of the children themselves? What impact did all this have on their hearts and minds?"
Mildred and her colleague selected 40 of the essays that explore that question, representing a wide perspective and geographic breadth. Desegregation affected every corner of the United States. I highly commend spending time with this remarkable book and drinking deeply from each essay. You can read more about the book and see a video of Mildred and her colleague discussing their work by clicking HERE. The book, published by Vanderbilt University Press, is available at the University of Virginia Bookstore, or via the usual on-line outlets that shall not be plugged here. 

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