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Art Tue Jul 05 2011

Exhibit at John Marshall Recounts Struggle for Civil Rights

ThurgoodMarshall.jpg
An iconic image, featured in the exhibit, of Thurgood Marshall and Autherine Lucy en route to the Federal Court in Birmingham, AL in 1954 to fight for her right to attend the University of Alabama.

By Jonah Newman. All photos by the author.

Marching Toward Justice: The History of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is on display now at John Marshall Law School, is about much more than the milestone amendment, passed in 1868, which granted automatic citizenship to anyone born in the United States. The colorful, maze-like panels and giant black-and-white photographs cover more than 350 years of African-American history, from the arrival of slaves in the Americas in 1619 through the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that ended legal segregation.

The exhibit, which details African-Americans' long struggle for civil equality, is the creation of the Damon J. Keith Law Collection of African American Legal History at Wayne State University Law School. It has toured more than a dozen U.S. cities since it opened in Washington D.C. in 1999, and comes to Chicago alongside the 105th national convention of Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation's oldest historically black fraternity.

DamonKeith.jpg
Judge Damon J. Keith of the 6th Circuit speaking at Wednesday's event.

Judge Keith, a 34-year veteran of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals attended the exhibit opening with his granddaughter, Nio Keith-Brown, a first-year law student at Emory University. He said the 14th Amendment laid the framework for future legal battles for equal rights.

"In my judgment, the 14th Amendment was the heart and soul of Brown v. Board," Judge Keith said. "The 14th Amendment embraces the whole structure of freedom."

KeithandWilliams.jpg
Judge Damen J. Keith, 6th U.S. Circuit Court, and Judge Ann Williams, 7th U.S. Circuit Court, talk at the opening of the "Marching Toward Justice" exhibit.

In the old newspaper clips and photographs, the casual student of history will recognize many of the names: Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and Thurgood Marshall are all present on the exhibit's panels.

But there are also those you may not recognize, including some historical figures who were unsuccessful in their efforts towards justice. Robert Morris, one of the first African-American lawyers, whose 1848 case against segregation in Boston public schools was struck down by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, is praised for his bravery and determination. On another wall, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, the lone dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson, which codified segregation through the doctrine "separate, but equal" is honored with a quotation from his minority opinion: "Our Constitution is color blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among its citizens."

AlphaPhiAlpha.jpg
Two members of Alpha Phi Alpha, the country's oldest historically black fraternity, explore the "Marching Toward Justice" exhibit in conjunction with the group's 105th annual convention. In the foreground, a panel honors Charles Houston, a leading Civil Rights figure and fellow Alpha Phi Alpha member.

The exhibit stands to remind us that his words are no truer today than they were in 1896 when he wrote them. Despite the hard work of many individuals who stood up for the voiceless, our society remains imperfect and unequal.

"We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us," said Rory Dean Smith, associate dean and director of diversity programs at John Marshall, who helped coordinate the exhibit's visit to Chicago. "Through this exhibit we all are inspired to help those who will be challenged or will be voiceless in the future."

BrownvBoard Team.jpg
A picture of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team that won the landmark Brown v. Board decision, part of the "Marching Toward Justice" exhibit. Thurgood Marshall is fourth from the right.

The exhibit is free and open to the public and runs through July 18 on 3 East of John Marshall's State Street building. Entrance is at 315 S. Plymouth Ct.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
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