Paul L. Caron

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Deflect, Delay, Deny: A Case Study Of Segregation By Law School Faculty

Briana Rosenbaum (Tennessee), Deflect, Delay, Deny: A Case Study of Segregation by Law School Faculty, 90 Tenn. L. Rev. __ (2022):

Many histories of school desegregation litigation center on the natural protagonists, such as the lawyers and plaintiffs who fought the status quo. Little attention is paid to the role that individual faculty members played in the perpetuation of segregated legal education. When the antagonists in the historiographies do appear, it is usually as anonymous individuals and groups. Thus, “the Board of Regents” refused to change its policy and “the University” denied a person’s application.

But recently discovered and rarely accessed historic documents provide proof of the direct role that some law school faculty members played in the perpetuation of segregation. For example, records at the University of Tennessee College of Law (“UT Law”) reveal that several UT Law faculty members helped to design and implement UT’s segregation strategy, including by acting as legal and policy advisers to state and university officials and by organizing and executing a concerted obfuscation plan to deny black applicants based not on their race, but on “neutral” technicalities. These faculty members are honored and memorialized still today, including through a named professorship and in portraits hanging on campus walls.

This Article seeks to excavate the truths of one law faculty’s segregationist history. To do this, it tells the story of Rudolph Valentino McKamey, a black citizen of Knoxville, TN who applied to UT Law in June 1948 but was denied. The Article reconstructs the facts of Mr. McKamey’s efforts to achieve his goal of becoming a lawyer at Tennessee’s flagship institution and, at the same time, the tactics that UT Law faculty used to obstruct that effort. This history of UT Law adds to the recent efforts of scholars to thoroughly document the roles of educational institutions in slavery and segregation.

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