Say Her Name The woman who sued her former slave owners for reparations and won
Not long after his mother died on an October day in 2003, David Blackman journeyed with his teenage daughter from Pensacola, Fla., to the narrow two-story brick house in Southside Chicago, where he had lived as a boy.
Mary Blackman’s home had once throbbed with life — the notes as she played the piano ringing through the rooms, the smell of biscuits and fudge filling the air and, not infrequently, the stern thunder of Mary‘s voice as she kept her six children in line.
Now the house was eerily quiet, jammed with furniture, stacks of papers and puzzles, dusty knickknacks. As David sifted through items on an old wooden sideboard in Mary‘s dining room, a sheaf of papers caught his eye. He picked them up and scanned them: They were photocopies of a one-page contract written in a very old-fashioned, angular black script. David had difficulty making out what it said, let alone its import, but two words stood out: “Henrietta Wood.”
The name appeared in the first line and again at the bottom of the page, accompanied underneath by a large slanted “X.” Above the name and signature of the illiterate Wood, David could make out part of another signature, "Brandon,” and then a date: 7 January 1866.
Before returning to Florida, he and Danielle packed up the document as well as Mary’s old family photographs.
He and Danielle tried for months to decipher the handwriting in the contract, but even as they were able to come up with a rough transcription, its existence mystified them. Who was this Wood, whose name had no echoes in their family, and why did Mary Blackman care?
Read the story on Washington Post
Speaking Of… She protested after one of her fellow lawyers used a racial slur
Barbara Ann Rowan, a transplanted New Yorker practicing law in Virginia, was attending an Alexandria Bar Association event in 1982 when a prominent defense lawyer used a racial slur in delivering an after-dinner speech to more than 100 people.
The lawyer drew a standing ovation when the speech ended, but Ms. Rowan, the only Black attorney present, remained seated, The Washington Post reported.
“It was not a pleasant welcome to the Alexandria Bar,” she told The Post. “My goodness, I thought I’d stepped into the last century.”
After Ms. Rowan described the incident to Gerald Bruce Lee, a Black lawyer who had encouraged her to attend the event, he organized a group of Black attorneys to send a protest letter to the bar. The bar expressed “deep sorrow” over what it called “a mistake by an old man,” The Post said. The offending lawyer said he would apologize.
The incident helped spur the formation of a new bar group, the Northern Virginia Black Attorneys Association, said Mr. Lee, who went on to hold state and federal judgeships. “We realized we needed to unite and to support each other and to be our own voice,” he said.
Read the story on NY Times
More of This The prosecution of white supremacy
If Merrick Garland is confirmed by the Senate and becomes the next attorney general, his first priority, according to the testimony he offered on Monday, would be supervising “the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6.” In both his prepared remarks and his answers to senators’ questions, Garland framed the siege as an attack on American democracy itself, and the job of the Department of Justice as “battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions.”
He was a Black man, in Texas, during the dangerous years after Reconstruction ended and federal troops pulled out of the state.
He likened what motivated Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, whom he prosecuted for the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, to what prompted the January 6 attack. He traced the Justice Department’s mission to its origins during Reconstruction, when it successfully prosecuted members of the Ku Klux Klan. This is the correct throughline to draw: From 2021 to 1995 to 1871, connecting the Capitol to Oklahoma City to South Carolina, where 150 years ago, after years of the Klan using violence to terrorize Black voters, disrupting elections with deadly force, the Department of Justice intervened.
Prosecuting far-right extremist violence is not an end unto itself. It cannot completely extinguish these groups, who, arguably, are not a break with American democracy but one steady fixture of it. But if Garland is acting from this sense of history, this understanding of what ground this prosecution is being fought on—white supremacy—offers a break with the calls that followed January 6 to pursue the rioters as “domestic terrorists.” As many have pointed out, we don’t need to look outside the United States to find an analog to this violence. The Klan’s terrorism is right there in our own past. And for a time, the state acted in opposition, when the Department of Justice saw it as its mission, as Garland recounted, “to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.” Yet within that history lies the failure that led to the events of January 6, 2021: What Garland did not mention is that the attorney general who brought those cases against the Klan, Amos T. Akerman, was dismissed less than two years after he was appointed by Ulysses S. Grant and that such prosecutions halted almost completely by 1876, as Reconstruction collapsed, after reactionary violence and institutional abandonment.
Read the story on The New Republic
Less of This This is how Black and Brown people are kept out of juries
In courthouses throughout the country, defendants are routinely denied the promise of a "jury of their peers," thanks to a lack of racial diversity in jury boxes. One major reason for this lack of diversity is the constellation of laws prohibiting people convicted (or sometimes simply accused) of crimes from serving on juries. These laws bar more than twenty million people from jury service, reduce jury diversity by disproportionately excluding Black and Latinx people, and actually cause juries to deliberate less effectively. Such exclusionary practices exist in every state and often ban people from jury service forever.
As we have chronicled extensively, the criminal justice system disproportionately targets Black people and Latinx people—so when states bar people with criminal convictions from jury service, they disproportionately exclude individuals from these groups. Of the approximately 19 million Americans with felony convictions in 2010, an estimated 36% (nearly 7 million people) were Black, despite the fact that Black people comprise 13% of the U.S. population. Although data on the number of Latinx people with felony convictions is difficult to find (because information about Latinx heritage has not always been collected or reported accurately within the criminal justice system), we do know that Hispanic people are more likely to be incarcerated than non-Hispanic whites and are overrepresented at numerous stages of the criminal justice process. It stands to reason, then, that Latinx populations are also disproportionately likely to have felony convictions.
As a result, jury exclusion statutes contribute to a lack of jury diversity across the country. A 2011 study found that in one county in Georgia, 34% of Black adults—and 63% of Black men—were excluded from juries because of criminal convictions. In New York State, approximately 33% of Black men are excluded from the jury pool because of the state’s felony disqualification law. Nationwide, approximately one-third of Black men have a felony conviction; thus, in most places, many Black jurors (and many Black male jurors in particular) are barred by exclusion statutes long before any prosecutor can strike them in the courtroom.
Read the story on Prison Policy
Say it Louder Debtors prisons never went away, and it’s time we finally end them
While controversial calls to “defund the police” have grabbed headlines, we urgently need to examine how we fund the police today. The increasing use of excessive fees, fines, and surcharges to fund parts of our criminal justice system is creating punitive debt traps for millions of low-income Americans leaving prison. Many find themselves in an economic prison: prevented from paying down their debts by the debts themselves. Others are so entrapped that they are actually reincarcerated for unpaid debt. Either way, they are denied the dignity of a real second chance — and a fresh start to pursue one’s purpose and to contribute to family, community and country.
Criminal justice debt has garnered growing attention — including today in Florida, where unpaid fees and fines are being used to deny those with a past felony the ability to vote. But what has gotten inadequate attention is the increasing role these fees play in funding our courts and police departments, and how they crush the chances of millions of Black and brown Americans to make a better life for themselves and their families, through what can be seen, figuratively and literally, as new debt prisons.
The fact that 21st-century America is recreating any form of debt prison is painfully ironic from a historical perspective. The United States was, after all, the first major nation to get rid of debt prisons in the 1820s and 1830s and embrace “fresh starts” for bankrupts at a time when “debtors were imprisoned in every country in Europe except Portugal,” according to historian Jill Lepore. Alexis de Tocqueville was to later note that this willingness to not see bankrupts as forever “disgrace[d] made Americans differ, not only from the nations of Europe, but from all the commercial nations of our time.”
Read the story on NY Times
How to become a Federal Judge
A distinguished panel shared insight into the application process, what the advisory committee is looking for, and how an applicant may be disqualified.
Webinar recording available here
Class Action Conference
Each year, Impact Fund hosts this invitation-only event to bring together leading plaintiffs' class action practitioners to discuss important new developments, share knowledge and ideas, and develop strategies for the future. The Conference provides an unparalleled opportunity for attendees to connect and forge relationships with like-minded advocates across the country.
February 25, 2021 via Zoom. Register here (pw: CL@55)