Emory Law News Center

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day message from Dean Robert Schapiro
By Robert A. Schapiro | Emory Law | January 17, 2016

Martin Luther King, Jr. :
Public domain photo courtesy of New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

In 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Undoubtedly, we have since made strides toward a society that affords all our citizens equal opportunity and protection.

Yet more than 50 years after “Letter From Birmingham City Jail,” race and racial inequality remain compelling issues in our nation.

In the past year, citizens marched in Ferguson, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, Baltimore and many other U.S. cities. The protests remind me of another observation by Dr. King: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable,” he said. “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

As the oldest law school in Dr. King’s home city of Atlanta, we have and continue to take that responsibility seriously.

In 1962, two Emory Law alumni-administrators pursued and won a court case that integrated private education in Georgia. In a powerful example of how the law can lead to social change, Henry L. Bowden 32C 34L 59H and Ben F. Johnson, Jr. 36C 40L 05H won a declaratory judgment from the Supreme Court of Georgia overturning a segregation measure then in the state constitution that eliminated property tax exemptions for private schools that attempted to integrate. (See Emory University v. Nash, 218 Ga. 317).

This past spring, the foundation was laid for The John Lewis Chair in Civil Rights and Social Justice. We are beginning the process to select an outstanding legal scholar to serve as the Lewis chair and lead our students in this important area of study.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, lectured at Emory Law last week in honor of MLK Day. Her perspective is a vital one that we were happy to bring to our community. As she has said, “As a country we are in one of those moments, one of those periods when we are forced to see ourselves. When we are pushed to confront our toughest problems. When we face hard truths and tough problems that have no easy answers. When we can see with absolute clarity the cracks in our democracy.” She was talking not only about events in Ferguson, but also the underpinnings of race relations formed centuries before.

Emory Law prides itself on the diversity of our students. That diversity has many dimensions, including race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic background, international origin, values and belief. As a student, you have an opportunity to contribute to and experience the breadth of diversity of Emory Law through numerous student organizations.

As our community honors Dr. King, we are so proud to call his daughter – Rev. Bernice King 90L – one of our own. Her words at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington underscore the mission for our newest lawyers: Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation; and so we come once again to let freedom ring, because if freedom stops ringing, then the sound will disappear, and the atmosphere will be charged with something else.

For many, the MLK holiday has become a day of service. It is an apt reminder that much important work remains to be done.

With sincere best wishes for our continued progress,

Robert