'Cold Legal Points into Points of Flame': Karl Llewellyn Attacks Lynching
16 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2015
Date Written: June 17, 2015
This essay puts into context a Foreword that Karl N. Llewellyn wrote for a NAACP brief urging the Department of Justice to prosecute an Alabama sheriff for permitting the lynching of two young men in July 1933. They were accused of assaulting and murdering a young white woman in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. The lynchings took place in the wake of the Scottsboro, Alabama prosecutions and many saw the lynchings as a response to Scottsboro and also to the presence of lawyers from the International Labour Defence who tried to represent the Tuscaloosa defendants. The lynchings, it seemed, were designed to send a message to African Americans throughout the state.
Llewellyn’s long-forgotten Foreword, which no previous scholars have written about, expands our understanding of Llewellyn and of the role the methods of Legal Realism could play in the Civil Rights Movement. Llewellyn looked at the facts to argue that community members and government officials worked together to protect white supremacy from “challenge even in the courts of law.” Such facts turned “cold legal points into points of flame” and made the case for federal intervention.
The brief, thus reflecting the methods of Realism, focused on close examination of facts to see the world fresh and to make the case for reform. It also suggests that the Civil Rights Movement and Realism may have drawn inspiration from a common well of cultural ideas to go back, see the world as it is, and to hold up those facts to the public, and in that way to change the law and legal practices.
Keywords: Legal Realism, NAACP, lynching, Karl Llewellyn, Charles Hamilton Houston
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