Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Reviewed: Richardson, The Origins of African American Interests in International Law

THE ORIGINS OF AFRICAN AMERICAN INTERESTS IN INTERNATIONAL LAW by Henry J. Richardson, III (Carolina Academic Press, 2008) is reviewed by Richard Middleton, Department of Political Science, University of Missouri-St. Louis for the Law and Politics Book Review. This book "explores how racism directed towards people of African-heritage in the United States, emanating during the period of slavery, is linked to fundamental principles of international law. Richardson’s main argument is that African American appeals to principles of international law are inextricably connected to their historical enslavement in the United States and their ability to illuminate tenets of law outside of the American domestic legal context that tend to substantiate their claims to basic human rights." The author

lays out a cogent thesis by recounting W.E.B. Dubois’ testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate in 1945 – an appearance in which Dubois spoke in favor of the US ratifying the United Nations Charter. Richardson notes that ratification of the United Nations Charter (a form of international law) would have, in theory, given African Americans a legal basis to petition a federal or state court to find that they had a claim to human rights. The human rights provisions of the United Nations Charter would have been binding at the federal and state level of government given its status under the US Constitution as a ratified treaty. From this, the book explores a range of normative arguments emanating from international legal principles with which Blacks identify that create the basis to their claim to freedom and a better approach to law by which they should be governed.
The result, for Middleton, is " a thorough analysis of African American interests in international law and how principles emanating from outside law have historically been linked to Blacks’ appeals to equality and freedom."

Read the rest here. A related work is Brenda Gayle Plummer, Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935-1960.