Speaking Truth to Memory: Lawyers and Resistance to the End of White Supremacy

95 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2008

See all articles by Mary Ellen Maatman

Mary Ellen Maatman

Widener University Delaware Law School


This article critically examines how elite lawyers built and defended the legal framework for White Supremacy in the Deep South both before and after Brown v. Board of Education. Although turn of the century commentators freely discussed how lawyers blocked African Americans' access to the ballot box, time has largely obliterated that story from our profession's memory. Some recent legal commentators have discussed post-Brown massive resistance, but few have specifically considered the role of lawyers qua lawyers in that movement. In contrast, this article analytically connects these eras to a decades-long program of legal work dedicated to defending and attempting to save White Supremacy. The elite lawyers of the Deep South who most deeply engaged in this work began by opposing the Supreme Court's 1944 Smith v. Allwright decision that outlawed the white primary, and ended with assisting the defense of anti-miscegenation laws at issue in the Court's 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision. Throughout two decades, the legal work I describe stemmed from the lawyers' belief in the racist assumptions underlying White Supremacy, and their desire to embed those assumptions in the law of the land.

I believe it is time for the legal profession to take full stock of its role in the progress of racial justice. Failure to do so falsely depicts the profession as a monolithic champion of justice. In turn, we are hobbled in our analysis of the role of law in hindering or promoting the progress of civil rights. To better understand our profession's history and our nation's civil rights progress, we must learn of, and challenge, the work of segregationist lawyers.

Keywords: civil rights, white supremacy, lawyers, segregation, racism

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Maatman, Mary Ellen, Speaking Truth to Memory: Lawyers and Resistance to the End of White Supremacy. Howard Law Journal, Vol. 50, No. 1, 2006, Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-45, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1124123

Mary Ellen Maatman (Contact Author)

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States
302-477-2198 (Phone)
302-477-2255 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.widener.edu

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