New lecture series shows promise

by Sarah Allison
Staff Writer

President Owen Williams welcomed Dr. William Wiecek to Carrick Theater Monday evening for the inaugural John Marshall Harlan lecture series.

Wiecek is a graduate of Harvard Law School and professor emeritus of Syracuse University College of Law.

President R. Owen Williams stands with Dr. William Wiecek in front of Haggin Auditorium in the Mitchell Fine Arts Center. Wiecek is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

Wiecek’s current book, “The Birth of the Modern Constitution: The United States Supreme Court, 1941-1953,” has won several distinguished honors since being published in 2006. His current topic of study is on structural racism and the Supreme Court since 1970.

There were over 60 people in attendance for the first lecture of the series. The discussion was an introduction to the series titled “John Marshall Harlan, Race and the United Supreme Court.”

Harlan was born in 1833 to a wealthy slaveholding family in Frankfort, Ky. Harlan was an 1853 distinguished graduate of Transylvania University’s law department and also served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court from 1877 to 1911.

As a Kentucky Unionist, Harlan held preconceived notions on race and segregation, yet was a notable dissenter on nine of the 13 cases the court heard that dealt with race — cases that included actions that changed American thought such as Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the southern “separate but equal” doctrine.

“It’s hard to understand why a man that is so vehemently racist, … why his opinion changed,” said Wiecek. “Harlan experienced a conversion. He did genuinely change his fundamental view, (though) people hardly ever change their view on race.”

Harlan returned to Transylvania in 1908 and spoke in Morrison Hall and recalled being “at the feet some of the greatest judges and lawyers that ever appeared in this country.”

The next Harlan Lecture Series will be in the spring and feature Akhil Reed Amar. Amar is a Yale University professor of political science and law.

The campus is privileged to have such scholarship come and share their knowledge. The lecture series is a great opportunity to “question everything” in the open forum after the lecture. All students and faculty are encouraged to attend the next event.


Related story: Lecture series designed for law.


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