[As in previous years, the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) to be held September 26-29 in Kansas City will have sessions expressly devoted to legal history as well as others related in some way to the law, in keeping with its imaginative and timely theme, “Truth or Consequences.” Here is the preliminary program; here is the link for registration; and here is a description of the legal history sessions to be held on Thursday, September 27. H/t: Friend-of-the-Blog Joanna Grisinger.]
10:45–12 | America’s Courts: A Place of Truth and Consequences
Truth and consequences play out in court every day, and have since the inception of the American legal system. Two documentary films, produced by federal courts in Kansas (The American Dream in Kansas: In Their Own Words) and Indiana (And Justice for All: Indiana’s Federal Courts), explore themes of justice, truth, and consequences, both historically and in the present day.
And Justice for All explores and reenacts three significant cases from Indiana’s federal courts. While the cases date from the 1860s to the 1970s, the topics are still very much a part of our nation’s dialogue: the right to a fair trial in the proper court, labor unions, and racism.
American Dream in Kansas: In Their Own Words presents personal stories of immigration and citizenship from around the world—stories of sacrifices, accomplishments and appreciation for newfound freedoms. Visitors are challenged to consider “what does it mean to be an American?”
After a brief introduction by the moderator, and viewing an excerpt from each film, participants will engage in small group discussions joined by the panelists. Participants will be encouraged to submit questions for the panelists to the moderator throughout the session on paper or electronically.
1:45-3:45 | Legal History Roundtable at the Whittaker U.S. Courthouse
Walk to the Whittaker U.S. Courthouse (1998), which features a public gallery and WPA murals of local river scenes. Discussion of history, education, and outreach programs, including a roundtable with the Legal History Affinity Group rounds out the session. (Picture ID required; no cell phones/wireless devices due to security regulations.)
The session will include a tour of select locations in the Whittaker U.S. Courthouse. The Bell Room Historical Gallery includes exhibits about landmark cases, court procedure, the federal courts’ role in naturalization, and the experience of being a juror. The jury assembly reception area contains two mural paintings completed in 1934 under the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). The first, painted by Emanuel Shane, depicts Kansas City Missouri's river landing area in the 1850’s. The second, by Walter Alexander Bailey, shows the former Watts Mill.
A judge will address the group about landmark cases, likely including the Swope Park pool desegregation case, Williams v. Kansas City, Mo., 104 F. Supp. 848 (W.D. Mo. 1952). Future U.S. Supreme Court Justice, then chief attorney for the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall filed the case on behalf of three African-American plaintiffs, who had been denied entry tickets to Swope Pool. During the appeal process, the pool was shut down, allegedly to avoid violence occurring elsewhere in similar disputes. In the end, the case overturned the separate-but-equal doctrine for Kansas City pools, shortly before the Brown v Board of Education decision.
All participants are invited to participate in a roundtable discussion of education, outreach, interpretation, collections, and other issues related to legal history.