Teacher, Student, Ticket: John Frank, Leon Higginbotham and One Afternoon at the Supreme Court - Not a Trifling Thing
18 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2002
In the fall of 1949, John P. Frank was a leading American constitutional law scholar and a new associate professor at Yale Law School. He also was a co-author of the amicus brief that the "Committee of Law Teachers Against Segregation in Legal Education" filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of petitioner in Sweatt v. Painter, which challenged Texas's Jim Crow system of racially-segregated legal education.
When the Sweatt case was set for oral argument in April 1950, Professor Frank took his first-year student, A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., with him to the Supreme Court to witness the event. For Leon Higginbotham (himself an impoverished black law student), this chance to witness Thurgood Marshall's attack on Plessy v. Ferguson in the context of defending a black law student's right to equal protection in legal education became a galvanizing, life-defining event.
This paper, which is based on a presentation at Yale Law School's February 2002 conference on the life and legacy of Judge Higginbotham (1928-1998), reconstructs these events of 1949-1950 and describes the enormous impact of John Frank's small effort to give Leon Higginbotham a special opportunity.
Keywords: Frank, Higginbotham, Marshall, Plessy, Sweatt, Supreme Court, Equal Protection, Segregation
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