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Legal History of Race Seminar (formerly Legal History of Race in the United States: Slavery, Segregation, and Civil Rights Seminar)

This seminar explores the role of law and the courts in the creation and evolution of ideologies of racial difference and structures of race-based inequality in the United States from the colonial era to the mid-twentieth century. Topics include the contingency and fluidity of the categories of slavery and freedom as well as of black and white; the law of slavery and how enslaved people used the courts; and legal developments that accompanied the nation’s shift from slavery to freedom and Reconstruction to segregation. In addition, we will explore the law of slavery’s relationship to violent extralegal mechanisms of control, a relationship that recurs during the Jim Crow era and lives on. Alongside slavery’s fall and segregation’s rise, we will trace the development of African American legal consciousness—ideas about how courts and the Constitution affected Black lives and could become mechanisms for securing the rights of full citizenship, culminating in the emergence of the Black bar, the invention of the modern civil rights lawyer, and the efforts of lawyers to dismantle segregation. At the same time, we will consider how proponents of slavery and segregation understood the courts to work for them, developing a parallel jurisprudence and set of litigation strategies. Sources will include appellate decisions and statutes; briefs, trial statements, private letters, essays, and newspaper reports; and a range of legal and historical scholarly perspectives. Enrollment limited.