Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and presumptions of the American Legal Process
A. Leon Higginbotham Jr

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
304pp. Index. Hb.: ISBN 0-1950-3822-3 Pb.: ISBN 0-1951-2288-7.

Judge Leon Higginbotham Jr.'s Shades of Freedom provides a dramatic, passionate account of the legal roots of racial oppression in the United States. By tracing state, federal and supreme court rulings in both upholding and striking down oppressive, racist laws from the 1600s to the mid 1990s, Higginbotham draws correlations between slave codes, laws and the social and moral attitudes of the white majority to the idea of African American inferiority. Of the many cases cited, two of the most infamous are Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In the majority decision against Scott, a slave who sued for his family's freedom when his master moved to a free state, Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney referenced inferiority of African Americans 21 times, thus codifying inferiority at the highest level (p. 65-67). The Scott case set the tone for Plessy v. Ferguson, which set forth the idea of "separate but equal," a concept that would remain in place for 62 years before the landmark desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. Higginbotham also cites stories of white allies, including Justice Louis Brandeis, who said to a cafeteria manager at the Supreme Court in the 1930s regarding an African American lawyer, "If this man is not served, I will leave the Supreme Court."(p. 155) While the United States has made clear progress, Higginbotham mentions recent racially charged political campaigns to show that the United States still struggles with the insidious notion of inferiority.

If Higginbotham were to make a recommendation to conflict resolvers, it might be this: because the concept of inferiority is deeply embedded in American legal and social history, it is essential to explore, at a systems level, how it is perpetuated and how it can be addressed when conflicts are resolved.

Rachel Barbour
National MultiCultural Institute, Washington, DC

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page