Third Celebration of Black Alumni held at Harvard Law School on Sept. 16 to 18
More than seven hundred alumni and guests gathered in Cambridge on Sept. 16 to 18 to attend the third Celebration of Black Alumni at Harvard Law School. The event, “Struggle and Progress: Leadership in the 21st Century,” focused on the progress that black lawyers have made.
In an opening address, HLSA President Sharon Jones ’82 told attendees the reunion was designed as “part family reunion, part Renaissance weekend and part TED conference.” She urged participants to use the weekend to seek inspiration for change at the global, national and local levels. “At CBA we expect you to have epiphanies,” said Jones. “I challenge you to change the world. We owe that to the people on whose shoulders we stand and to those who will come after us.”
President and CEO of Merck Kenneth Frazier ’78 in a luncheon keynote said: “This is a glorious occasion. As I look out at all of you, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed in a sense, in a positive way, by the visible progress that we’ve made as a subset of the Harvard Law School alumni base. … I am truly thrilled by the impact that the people in this room are having on every aspect of our profession.”
In her remarks Dean Martha Minow highlighted her key priorities at HLS, including a commitment to strengthening the ties between the legal profession and practice, and promoting diversity. “We are building a faculty who most represent the American people. HLS prepares students for leadership in the real world,” said Minow. “We intend to promote openness to all kinds of diversity, including intellectual and ideological diversity.”
Several prominent alums also gave addresses over the three-day event, including Roger Ferguson ’79, president and CEO of TIAA-CREF and former vice chairman of the board of governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, who provided an in-depth view of the current financial landscape, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ’82 who discussed social reform and the political landscape.
From left to right: Ken Frazier ’78, president and CEO of Merck, welcomed conference attendees in a keynote address on Friday; Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree ’78 kicked off reunion festivities in a panel discussion on leadership for the 21st century. Stacey R. Moore ’08, Ashley Moore ’10 and Alea Mitchell ’12; and Jay Osha ’09 were four of 700 people who attended CBA.
From left to right: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick ’82 shared his thoughts on the political landscape; Dean Martha Minow, HLSA award recipient Annette Gordon-Reed ’84, and HLSA President Sharon Jones ’82; and Congresswoman Terri Sewell ’92, representative of the 7th District of Alabama, participated in a panel on government leaders.
From left to right: Benjamin Wilson ’76 and Florence Lathen; June Baldwin ’75 (left), director of business and legal affairs at KCET and Deborah Batts ’72 (right), U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York; and Former President of Harvard University Derek Bok ’54 (right) was awarded the HLS Medal of Freedom along with Walter Leonard, former assistant director of admissions at HLS and former president of Fisk University.
Read more about the 3rd Celebration of Black Alumni.
Celebrating the challenges and champions of HLS’s legacy
Harvard Law School Historical & Special Collections
“The racial history of HLS includes both disturbing and inspiring aspects,” said HLS historian Daniel Coquillette ’71 at a Sept. 15 event sponsored by the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice.
Harvard Law School was founded with a bequest from Isaac Royall, a brutal slave owner who put down a slave revolt at his sugar plantation in Antigua. Two centuries later, the first black president of the U.S. and first black first lady are HLS alumni.
Examining that arc was the subject of “Celebrating Challenges and Champions: From Houston to Marshall to the 21st Century,” an event sponsored by the HLS Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and moderated by HLS Professor Charles Ogletree ’78.
“The founder of this school burned 70 slaves at the stake,” said Coquillette, noting that the HLS shield depicts three wheat sheaves that were part of the Royall family’s coat of arms. Yet when Coquillette visited Antigua recently as part of his research, he found the locals proud of their connection to HLS: “It’s a matter of great pride to the people of Antigua that the labor of enslaved Antiguans helped found the school where Barack Obama graduated.”
Except for West Point, no single national school contributed as many leaders to the Confederacy, including 11 generals and 18 members of Jefferson Davis’ government. Because of a major recruiting effort to establish HLS as a national school by then-Professor Joseph Story, who simultaneously served on the U.S. Supreme Court, 30 percent of students in the 1850s came from the Deep South. Charles Sumner LL.B. 1834, a lecturer at HLS, found his promising career at HLS cut short after he became a passionate abolitionist. George Lewis Ruffin LL.B. 1869 and Archibald H. Grimke LL.B. 1874, the first two blacks to graduate from HLS, entered a school that was still a “stronghold of anti-black feeling,” Coquillette said.
Ruffin served as a Massachusetts court judge until his death in 1886, and Grimke, an escaped slave from South Carolina, became national vice president of the NAACP. Both men, whom Coquillette described as “deeply courageous,” are completely ignored in Charles Warren’s 1907 treatise, “History of the Harvard Law School and of Early Legal Conditions in America.” Arthur Sutherland’s (’25) ”The Law at Harvard: A History of Ideas and Men,” published in 1967, mentions neither man, nor Charles Hamilton Houston.
“We’re not asking for a special place in history, we’re just asking to be remembered,” said Ogletree.
View Coquillette’s talk.