“It was more than 100 years ago that Abraham Lincoln—a great President of another party—signed the Emancipation Proclamation,” observed President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 during a joint session of Congress. “But emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact. A century has passed—more than 100 years—since equality was promised, and yet the Negro is not equal.”
Dean Phobe A. Haddon used Johnson's remarks as a departure point in her keynote address to the Mid-Atlantic People of Color (MAPOC) Legal Scholarship Conference at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. .
“As others had done in the latter part of the twentieth century, Johnson linked the fate of every American to the necessity of finishing the equality and freedom project launched by Lincoln in the Proclamation,” Haddon observed.
In her discussion of significant court decisions and legislation--including the Fourteenth Amendment, Slaughter-House, Plessy v. Ferguson, Jim Crow Laws, Pearson v. Murray, and Brown v. The Board of Education--Haddon noted that the courts emerged as arbitrators of equality, while the fight for it intensified and waned over decades.
“After the national drama of the civil rights struggle, and the first small signs of progress, a premature—and still false—sense of ‘mission accomplished’ began to seep into our national consciousness,” she observed.
Haddon expressed concern that diversity gains were being lost in higher education. Citing statistics of declining law school enrollment among minorities, Haddon warned against continuing threats to affirmative action, particularly in education.
“If local, state, and federal governments are deprived of the critical tools to enable students to learn from, live with and work alongside other students from different backgrounds, the chances that we can effectively address the salience of race and attack other forms of bias are sorely diminished,” Haddon argued. “The shift away from a focus on respect and equality to colorblindness comes at a time when poverty and social and educational isolation continue to be experienced disproportionately by large numbers of people of color.”
Legal educators have a special responsibility—and opportunity, Haddon believes. “We must arm our students with the tools to reclaim the conversation about freedom and equality and instill confidence in their ability to address persistent inequality,” she asserted.