'MLK 50: Where Do We Go from Here?': Teaching the Memphis Civil Rights Movement Through a Therapeutic Jurisprudence Lens
48 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2018
Date Written: February 19, 2018
As the nation pauses to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, it is imperative that we study the epic civil rights history of Memphis which preceded this dreadful event, especially in the legal academy. Therapeutic Jurisprudence (TJ), with its focus on laws, legal processes, and legal actors and the extent to which they can be therapeutic or antitherapeutic is a fitting academic vantage point. The TJ repertoire of principles and techniques and the “genius loci,” a spirit of time and place which comes from the field of historic preservation, are teaching rubrics with which to assist law students to reflect upon the tightrope which Dr. King walked in 1968 Memphis and to prepare them for modern day civil rights challenges. Dr. King’s soul remains in Memphis. According to law professor John Nivala, “[T]he places where we work and live have a spirit which enlivens our present by reminding us of our past and anticipating our future.” The places where law students walk and study have a past and future, too, none more venerable than the Downtown Memphis Corridor, where civil rights battles were fought and won, and where Dr. King died. The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law occupies a former Federal Courthouse, Customs House, and Post Office. Too little has been written about the civil rights history of this building and the Downtown Memphis Corridor it anchors. Yet precedent-setting desegregation lawsuits were filed here to integrate Memphis State University, the public schools, the public libraries, buses, and places of public and private accommodations. The Corridor was the scene of student sit-ins to protest segregation. Criminal prosecutions of civil rights activists took place at the state courthouses. The U. S. Civil Rights Commission held influential hearings here. These historic moments were a prelude to Dr. King’s 1968 visits to Memphis that led to his death. MLK 50 offers a teaching opportunity for all of the nation and especially for students of the law. It is regrettable that Memphis Law, and indeed most law schools, do not offer a civil rights curriculum that includes Memphis civil rights history. The Memphis experience must be taught. I suggest that TJ offers a theoretical framework for such a pedagogical endeavor.
Keywords: Therapeutic justice, restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, genius loci, civil rights, Memphis, place, spirit of place, discrimination, segregation, race, race equality, public space, procedural justice, due process, courts, school desegregation, teaching, jurisprudence, legal education
JEL Classification: K38, K39, K40, I29, 131, Z19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation