Summer Reading: The Girl on the Velvet Swing

She was a young actress and model, new to New York City, who caught the attention of a wealthy and famous older man.  After gaining the trust of her mother, the man lured the 16 year old alone to his apartment, plied her with champagne, and raped her after she had passed out.  Despite this, she continued to have a relationship with him for a number of years, while he continued to support her family financially.

The Girl on the Velvet Swing

Some time later, she married another man, the heir to the fortune of a well-to-do Pittsburgh family. He had his own dark past: posing as a theatrical agent in New York, he had physically abused several young aspiring actresses. The women were all paid off to ensure their silence.

These events may sound all too familiar, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but they occurred in the early 1900s and are the subject of Simon Baatz’s book The Girl on the Velvet Swing (Call No. HV 6534.N5 B33 2018). The young model was Evelyn Nesbit, the man who sexually assaulted her was renowned architect Stanford White, and her husband was Harry Thaw.  Nesbit would become one of the first fashion icons, her image appearing in advertisements everywhere, but her prior entanglement with White would haunt her for her entire life. Things came to a head one sweltering night in 1906 when Thaw saw White in attendance at a performance in the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden. Yelling “You’ve ruined my wife,” he pulled out a pistol and shot White three times at close range.  Stanny, as he was known to his friends, died instantly in a building of his own design (this second iteration of Madison Square Garden, erected in 1890, would be torn down in 1925.)

Stanford White

The story of Nesbit, White, and Thaw has been covered before in other books, including Nesbit’s autobiography from 1934, and Paula Uruburu’s American Eve (2008).  What distinguishes The Girl in the Velvet Swing is the depth it gets into in describing the multiple trials and appeals, and the legal maneuvering undertaken by Thaw and his ever-changing legal team.  How to defend the accused when he shot the victim in front of countless witnesses? Would the insanity defense fly if Thaw himself refused to assert it?  How to take advantage of the system and free Thaw once he was committed to an asylum?

The book’s coverage of Thaw’s trial proceedings is full of rich detail, sourced from the many newspapers that were breathlessly reporting on the latest legal twists and turns: the New York World, New York American, New York Sun, among others (the Author’s Note at the end of the book provides further context as to the newspaper coverage.)  Especially telling are the legal shenanigans that ensue after Thaw escapes from the Matteawan asylum in New York state. He lands in a small Quebec town across the border from Vermont, and his army of lawyers wage legal battle over extradition that spills over into the courts and politics of Canada.

Harry Thaw

When all was said and done, Harry Thaw had hired around 40 lawyers on his legal team, and had spent the staggering sum of $1 million on legal fees.  And he was free.  It’s another story that remains all too familiar to us today.

Towards the end, the book circles back to the putative center of the story, the girl who once innocently swung on Stanford White’s favorite apparatus, a velvet swing.  But maybe the story was never really about Evelyn Nesbit.  As she once lamented: “Stanny White was killed. But my fate was worse. I lived.”

 

Law School 101: Books to Get You Started

As recent BLS graduates prepare to take the New York State bar exam next week, and we wish them luck, those individuals admitted to Brooklyn Law School for fall 2018 are preparing to begin their legal studies next month.  There is much to prepare for:  move into Feil Hall or a new apartment, explore a new neighborhood, attend welcome events and orientation sessions, purchase text books, meet other 1Ls, etc.

The library has a number of books geared to helping new students get off to the best possible start.  Listed below are some of those titles.  Good luck as you begin your legal career!

Critical Reading for Success in Law School and Beyond by Jane Bloom Grise. St. Paul, MN, West Academic Publishing, 2017.  Call No.:  Main KF 283 .G75 2017.

 

 

Demystifying the First Year of Law School:  A Guide to the 1L Experience by Albert Moore and David Binder, New York, NY, Wolters Kluwer, 2010.  Call No.: Main KF 283 .M66 2010.

 

 

Finding Your Voice In Law School:  Mastering Classroom Cold Calls, Job Interviews, and Other Verbal Challenges, by Molly Shadel, Durham, NC, Carolina Academic Press, 2013.  Call No.: Main KF 283 .S52 2013.

 

 

 

Get a Running Start: Your Comprehensive Guide to the First Year Curriculum by David Gray, et al., St. Paul, MN, West Academic Publishing, 2016.  Call No.:  Main KF 283 .G739 2016.

 

 

Navigating the First Year of Law School : A Practical Guide to Studying Law by G. Nicholas Herman, et al., Durham, NC, Carolina Academic Press, 2016.  Call No.: Main KF 283 .H47 2016.

 

 

Open Book:  The Inside Track to Law School Success by Barry Friedman and John Goldberg, New York, NY, Wolters Kluwer, 2016.  Call No.:  Main KF 283 .F75 2016.

 

 

Law School 101:  How to Succeed in Your First Year of Law School and Beyond by R. Stephanie Good, Naperville, IL, Sphinx Publishing, 2009.  Call No.: Main KF 283 .G66 2009.

 

 

A Short & Happy Guide to Being a Law Student by Paula Franzese, St. Paul, MN, west Academic Publishing, 2014.  Call No., Main KF 283 .F735 2014.

 

 

 

What Every Law Student Really Needs to Know:  An Introduction of the Study of Law, by Tracey George and Suzanna Sherry, New York, NY, Wolters Kluwer, 2016.  Call No.:  Main KF 283 .G46 2016.

Beautiful Libraries

The librarians from Brooklyn Law School are attending the 2018 conference of the American Association of Law Libraries in Baltimore, Maryland. We are honored to be part of an incredible profession with so many dedicated people willing to help law students, lawyers and legal professionals. Go to your library, speak with your librarians, educate yourself and don’t ignore the advantages that your librarians offer.

Take a look at some of the wonderful libraries listed in a new book from Taschen, Massimo Listri: The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries, withimages taken of the oldest libraries around the world, from medieval to 19th-Century institutions and private to monastic collections. It claims to be ‘a bibliophile beauty pageant’.

Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (The Vatican Library), Rome, Italy
The Vatican Library has its roots in the 4th Century CE, although in its current form it was established in the 15th Century. In the 16th Century Pope Sixtus V commissioned the architect Domenico Fontana to create new buildings to house the Vatican collections, and these are still used today. The decoration is so dizzyingly luxurious that it suggests a sort of fractal geometry. Like most of the vast Vatican complex, the library is a display of the spiritual and temporal influence that has allowed the Vatican to constitute itself as a sovereign state. In addition to documents spanning much of human history, the library possesses the oldest known manuscript of the Bible. When the librarian shushes you, you might want to listen: he has the rank of cardinal.

Stiftsbibliothek Kremsmünster (Kremsmünster Abbey Library), Austria
Kremsmünster Abbey was founded in 777 CE and its library holdings include the Codex Millenarius, a famous 8th-Century manuscript of the Christian Gospels that depicts Saint Luke as a flying ox (Matthew, Mark, and John are a winged man, lion, and eagle respectively). Except for a raid in the 10th Century, after which repairs were made by Emperor Henry II, Kremsmünster for the most part escaped sacking, dissolution, and aristocratic expropriation; little wonder, since it sits on a hill like an intimidating fortress. Like many continental libraries, it was (re)built in the popular Baroque style in the 17th Century, according to which most surfaces (luckily not including the floor) are subjected to exuberant carving, gilding, and frescoes – although this library is positively restrained in comparison to some. Books as intellectual and cultural capital were once considered as valuable as jewels, and it made sense for them to be stored and displayed in gorgeous jewel boxes.

Biblioteca Statale Oratoriana dei Girolamini (The Girolamini Library), Naples, Italy The Girolamini library is part of a large complex founded by the Oratorian religious order. The library hall is an imposing space that rises through three elegant stories: two levels of carved wood shelves, topped with late baroque plasterwork and frescoes. The sheer volume of books on display leaves one in no doubt that this is a place of higher study and research, as well as a warehouse of knowledge. Although it is wide ranging, the collection is particularly strong in music: the Oratorians believe in the importance of music and song in religious contemplation. This was the 18th-Century philosopher Giambattista Vico’s favourite library. It is also, sadly, an instance of a historic library being ransacked in the 21st Century: in 2012 it was discovered that a crime ring had been systematically looting and selling its valuable antique texts on the open market, although many of them have now been recovered. This episode is a valuable reminder, if one were needed, that humanity’s written heritage – the ‘memory of the world’, as Unesco calls it – remains under constant threat of attack.

Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (Sainte-Geneviève Library), Paris, France
Although we know it is probably older, documentary information about this library first appears in 1148. It was founded as a monastic library, survived the calamitous years of the Revolution intact (although the abbey it was a part of was dissolved and turned into a school), and now serves as the Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne university library. The library’s holdings expanded with the dissolution of other religious institutions and from confiscation of aristocratic collections. The new abbey church, built in the 18th Century, has been turned into the famous Panthéon, the national hall of fame. The current library building was created by the architect Henri Labrouste and opened in 1851. The majestic reading room is like an Industrial Age cathedral; the iron-frame construction brings to mind the other great public cathedrals of the period, the railway stations. In a modern arrangement, desks for readers are at centre stage, with the book stacks standing in graceful attendance. Gas lighting was employed in a monumental hall for the first time.

Klosterbibliothek Metten (Metten Abbey Library), Germany
The Benedictine Abbey at Metten was founded in 766 but was buffeted by the Reformation, war, social unrest, secularisation, and the realpolitik swirling around it. This reached a crescendo in 1803, when the abbey’s property, including its library holdings, were confiscated and auctioned off. However, under King Ludwig I of Bavaria the abbey was reopened and a new library was established; the site once more became a redoubt of knowledge and education. Under Abbot Märkl the monastery was transformed into a prelate’s palace, more in keeping with the prestige it commanded. Among its breathtaking official reception rooms are the library, which is designed along a sophisticated theological scheme. The result is a densely saturated and surprisingly playful palate of beautiful materials. The sculptor Franz Josef Holzinger was commissioned to create the ‘atlantes’ on the central columns to hold up the ceiling (because an ordinary marble column would never do). Christian heroes such as Thomas Aquinas are captured in scenes from their lives in the ceiling frescoes. If there is a problem with this Rococo approach to constructing a ‘temple of knowledge’, it is perhaps that one sometimes has to squint to find the books.

The Premonstratensian Strahov monastery was founded in 1143 and has survived fire, wars, and plundering. Fortunately the holes torn in its collection have been more than made up for over the years by acquisitions and bequests. The library is home to the usual array of religious books, including the exquisite Strahov Evangeliary from the 9th Century, with semi-precious stones embedded in the binding, but its holdings cover a broad range of topics. In design, the library has two monumental halls. The Theological Hall was commissioned by the Abbot of Strahov in 1671; its riotous stucco work and many paintings and inscriptions (illustrating the principles of faith, study, knowledge, and divine providence) place it firmly in the Bohemian Baroque tradition. The fact that its codices are uniformly bound in white give the hall a pleasingly well-ordered feel. The Philosophical Hall (shown here) was built starting in 1783, is more neoclassical in design, and is characterised by its magnificent walnut book cabinets, which were salvaged from the dissolved abbey of Louka, in Moravia. After the Communist coup, the monastery was appropriated by the Czechoslovakian State in 1950 to become part of the Museum of Czech Literature. But after the fall of Communism, the collections were given back to the Premonstratensians, who have been working since to repair decades of neglect.

Stiftsbibliothek Sankt Gallen (Saint Gall Abbey Library), St Gallen, Switzerland For a long time, St Gall Abbey was one of the most important
intellectual centers in Western Europe, and it incorporates one of the largest medieval libraries in the world. The abbey was founded in the 7th Century by the Irish monk Gallus, and followed the Rule of St Benedict – the most bookish of saints, who required of his order the disciplined contemplation of religious texts – for more than a thousand years. A Greek inscription above the library’s entrance calls it a ‘sanctuary for the soul’. Today’s library arose during the Baroque remodelling of the abbey in the 18th Century by the architect Peter Thumb. The decoration befits a place of great cultural capital. There is rich, Rococo ornamentation everywhere, and especially in the stucco work. The carved wooden bookcases completely cover the walls on two levels, while the ceiling paintings depict ecumenical councils and church fathers. The abbey was added to the Unesco World Heritage list in 1983.

Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland PIf you still have your sunglasses on, you can take them off now, because the Long Room at Trinity College Library is pleasingly low on ornamentation, and soothingly high on Enlightenment symmetries. Elizabeth I of England founded Trinity College in 1592 as a centre of Protestant scholarship, the idea being to break with the monastic tradition of learning and establish a new framework within the University of Dublin. Because the university outgrew its first library, a new building was planned by Thomas Burgh. Known as the Old Library, it was begun in 1712 and finished in 1732. It includes a spectacular 65m (215 ft)-long central space known as the Long Room; the original flat roof of the single-storey room was raised in 1858 and replaced with the oak barrel-vaulting that exists today. The Long Room’s oak shelves hold 200,000 of the university’s most valuable books. Among the intellectual worthies whose busts are ranked along the bookshelves are Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, both of whom once used the library. (There are no women.) The library’s treasures include illuminated masterpieces such as the Book of Durrow (c 650–700) and the Book of Kells (c 800).

Dedication of the Phyllis & Bernard Nash ’66 Reading Room

The BLS alumna sat down on one of the brightly-colored, soft and comfortable couches in the newly-christened Nash Reading Room. “We didn’t have anything like this in the library, back when I was in law school!”

Over the years, many alumni have had experiences similar to those described by Bernie Nash (BLS ‘66) in his remarks at the dedication of the Nash Reading Room on June 26, 2018. When he started out at BLS, the library was a “medieval” place with long tables and hard chairs, where students kept their heads down in their devotion to quiet study. Yet he soon learned that these austere physical trappings belied the value of the library and librarians. During Nash’s tenure as a student, BLS Librarian Lucie Jurow (BLS ‘30) became his mentor. She not only taught him how to do legal research, a skill that served him well in law school and in practice, but also helped him out when he ran into some issues with the law school administration. Nash’s appreciation of Jurow’s mentorship, and of the value of the law school library, stuck with him throughout his long and successful career.  Hence it was fitting that the newly-renovated third floor collaboration room, which has quickly become the most popular space in the library, be dedicated as the Phyllis & Bernard Nash ‘66 Reading Room in honor of the Nashs’ generosity in giving back to BLS.

After the official ribbon-cutting ceremony had been conducted by Phyllis Nash, Bernie Nash, Dean Nick Allard, and Library Director Janet Sinder, the guests spilled into the reading room. Some guests chatted with those who were using the space: students taking summer classes as well as recent graduates studying for the July bar exam. Others settled on the inviting couches and fractal lounge chairs. They sipped champagne and didn’t seem like they wanted to leave.

LexisNexis 200

On the English side of the pond, LexisNexis’ 200 year anniversary seems to have coincided with AI hitting the very top of the hype curve, blockchain finding its way into the everyday Lexicon and increasing numbers of leading law firms opening their own tech accelerator hubs. These opportunities for lawyers, law firms, in-house teams, learning establishments and law students give us reason to think that we are experiencing the most significant innovations ever seen by lawyers.

One technology easily forgotten because of its pervasiveness was an innovation that dominated LexisNexis (previously Butterworths) during the first 160 years of our history but had already been available for 350 years before Henry Butterworth opened his bookstore in 1818. Johannes Guttenberg’s printing press was a major first step on a journey of democratizing information and transmitting it with ease and speed.

While the printing press had been developed in the mid-1400s, it was not until 1481 or 1482 when the first English law book was printed: Sir Thomas de Littleton’s Treatise on Tenures, which was written in French.  Perhaps even more importantly, the first legislation was printed in 1483. Before then, the dissemination of legal information and ideas – including publishing law reports and instructional guides for solicitors and justices of the peace – was limited to a scribe’s accuracy and speed and therefore tended to be limited to those few in the Inns of Court who had access to manuscript copies.

The pre-printing press, “manuscript culture”, methods of recording and sharing information in notebooks or commonplace books and the direct conversations between lawyers made it challenging for those practising or upholding law to be sure that they were up-to-date with current legislation and practice. However the same methods also proved to be an ideal protectionist tool allowing (or perhaps even engineering) a major knowledge gap between those who had access to the law and those who didn’t. A lawyer’s value would regularly lie with just knowing what the law was, rather than how to apply the law. Of course this is no longer how a lawyer creates value and such a scenario seriously offends our current concepts of the Rule of Law since people cannot be truly equal if it is impossible for the majority to even know what the law is.

in any event, LexixNexis has created a short video as a tribute to the legal profession and how it has helped transform society over the past 200 years.

Hat tip:  James Wilkinson, Head of Content Automation at LexisNexis UK.

Conspiracy: the Gawker Case

Brooklyn Law School Library’s New Books List for June 1, 2018 is now out with 38 print titles and 41 E-book titles. One book attracted the attention of this writer. Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue tells the story of an astonishing modern media conspiracy. In an age when people compete to be contrarian, it is rare to encounter an astounding proposition. That is what makes Ryan Holiday’s “Conspiracy” such a delight. It takes real nerve, during an investigation into possible collusion to swing the 2016 presidential election, to argue that we might be better off “if more people took up plotting.” Unfortunately for Holiday, and for readers who enjoy a good provocation, his book focuses on a case that demonstrates why transparency beats conspiracy in the long run.

“Conspiracy” chronicles the legal battle between Terry Bollea, or Hulk Hogan, and Gawker Media, the swashbuckling Manhattan publishing group founded by Nick Denton. In 2012, A.J. Daulerio, then editor of the company’s flagship site, published excerpts of a sex tape, recorded in 2006 without Bollea’s consent or knowledge, that showed Bollea in bed with Heather Clem, who was then married to Bollea’s best friend: the radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge. The story was wacky, but it got truly weird. In 2007, Gawker Media acquired a powerful enemy when one of its writers outed PayPal founder and venture capitalist Peter Thiel as gay. Gawker’s Denton, who like Thiel is gay, believed that Thiel’s refusal to be open about being gay was proof that Thiel was “paranoid.” To Thiel, the story was a violation, one that made him into an object of curiosity, in a way he found incomprehensible.

Thiel, as Holiday writes, “venerated privacy, in creating space for weirdos and the politically incorrect to do what they do. Because he believed that’s where progress came from.” What Gawker saw as transparency, Thiel saw as a threat to Silicon Valley. He was so angry at Gawker that he began to refer to it as “the Manhattan Based Terrorist Organization.”

But it took him four years to strike back. In 2011, a Mr. A, whose role is first described in “Conspiracy” but who remains a shadowy figure throughout the book, persuaded Thiel to devote $10 million and five years to a shell company aimed at finding and backing potential lawsuits against Gawker. Among their beneficiaries: Terry Bollea. In 2016, a Florida jury awarded Bollea damages so punishing that Denton had to sell the company. On the surface, it seemed that Thiel’s conspiracy had checkmated Gawker Media.

Holiday, an author and corporate adviser, had unusual access to Thiel and Denton. It is one of the many ironies of this story, and of “Conspiracy,” that talking makes Thiel more sympathetic and comprehensible than plotting ever did. But by the end of the book, it’s clear that, despite Holiday’s argument, Thiel’s conspiracy failed: Thiel killed Gawker, but in doing so undermined his dream of making the Internet a more decent place and securing a more private life for himself. By contrast, Gawker was destroyed not because its leaders failed to conspire, but because they did not pursue the transparency they claimed to believe in.

By the time Thiel did identify himself as Gawker Media’s nemesis after the verdict in Bollea v. Gawker, the narrative of the trial was well on its way to being set. Thiel discovered that it is difficult to come forward and insist that you are the hero of the story when you have already won the sort of surprising and dismaying victory that makes the public inclined to believe that you are the villain. “Cunning and resources might win the war,” Holiday writes toward the end of “Conspiracy,” “but it’s the stories and myths afterwards that will determine who deserved to win it.” The flaw in Thiel’s thinking, and in “Conspiracy,” is in failing to recognize that the stories and the myths that emerge after an event often are the substance of the victory.

RBG

Her fans refer to her as the “Notorious R.B.G.” a reference to the legendary rapper “The Notorious B.I.G.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg jokes in an interview that they have a lot in common. They both come from Brooklyn. Through Ginsburg’s history you can track the women’s movement in the United States:  her fight for legal equality (for women and men), her position on an increasingly conservative court. It gives access to Ginsburg, who is interviewed, along with her children, her granddaughter, and her friends.

Starting with various right-wing figures calling Ginsburg “witch,” “very wicked,” “zombie,” the documentary takes us on a tour through Ginsburg’s life: her 1993 confirmation hearing for the Senate Judiciary Committee, recent interviews at Harvard Law School or the Virginia Military Institute, all of which help fill in the blanks of her lengthy career, as a lawyer working on women’s rights issues to her eventual nomination to the highest court in the land. There is information of personal details: her love of opera, her friendship with Antonin Scalia, the diverse collars she wears to court, her lengthy marriage to Martin D. Ginsburg. Once we reach the present day, the memes take over, showing how Ginsburg has captured the hearts of a younger generation. Seeing a class full of high school students as they listen to Ginsburg’s during a visit to their class is especially endearing.

Her husband, “Marty,” was by all accounts a well-liked and gregarious man, and not threatened by his wife’s ambitions. Gloria Steinem refers to her as a “superhero,” but Ginsburg did not spend the 1970s walking in protest marches. Instead, she went about trying to establish legal precedent for gender equality. She did so in a couple of groundbreaking cases, like Frontiero v. Richardson, her first case before the Supreme Court. “RBG” profiles those early cases, where Ginsburg took the opportunity in her arguments not only to plead for her client, but also to teach the existing Supreme Court justices that inequality is real, and why it was wrong to treat women as second-class citizens. In one of her arguments, she quoted 19th century abolitionist and attorney Sarah Grimké,: “I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks.” The Supreme Court listened. Ginsburg won 5 out of 6 of her cases.

We get to hear a brief sequence dealing with her controversial 2016 comments about then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump, a serious break with the tradition of Supreme Court Justices maintaining poker faces, regardless of who is in power. One of the regular interview subjects is Senator Orrin Hatch, who may disagree with her politics but also admires her, expressing no doubt that she belongs on the Supreme Court. In the film, his is a measured presence, exuding an acceptance of disagreement and the need for compromise. His comments come from an earlier, more civilized world. Ginsburg is now queen of the dissenting opinion, but unfortunately the filmmakers stay far, far away from any “dissenting opinions” themselves.

Memorial Day 2018

Memorial Day festivities are now 150 years old. At the end of the Civil War, Americans faced a formidable challenge: how to memorialize 625,000 dead soldiers, Northern and Southern. As Walt Whitman mused, it was “the dead, the dead, the dead — our dead — or South or North, ours all” that preoccupied the country. After all, if the same number of Americans per capita had died in Vietnam as died in the Civil War, four million names would be on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, instead of 58,000.

In the North, Memorial Day emerged in 1868 when the Grand Army of the Republic called on communities to conduct grave-decorating ceremonies. On May 30, funereal events attracted thousands of people at hundreds of cemeteries in countless towns, cities and mere crossroads. By the 1870s, one could not live in an American town, North or South, and be unaware of the spring ritual. The practice of decorating graves which gave rise to an alternative name, Decoration Day did not start with the 1868 events, nor was it an exclusively Northern practice. In 1866 the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Ga., chose April 26, the anniversary of Gen. Joseph Johnston’s final surrender to Gen. William T. Sherman, to commemorate fallen Confederate soldiers. Later, both May 10, the anniversary of Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s death, and June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, were designated Confederate Memorial Day in different states.

Memorial Days were initially occasions of sacred bereavement, and from the war’s end to the early 20th century they helped forge national reconciliation around soldierly sacrifice, regardless of cause. In North and South, orators and participants frequently called Memorial Day an “American All Saints Day,” likening it to the European Catholic tradition of whole towns marching to churchyards to honor dead loved ones.

The ritual quickly became the tool of partisan memory, at least through the violent Reconstruction years. In the South, Memorial Day was a means of confronting the Confederacy’s defeat without repudiating its cause. Some Southern orators stressed Christian notions of noble sacrifice. Others, however, used the ritual for Confederate vindication and renewed assertions of white supremacy. Blacks had a place in this Confederate narrative, but only as time-warped loyal slaves who were supposed to remain frozen in the past. Yankee Memorial Day orations often righteously claimed the high ground of blood sacrifice to save the Union and destroy slavery.

But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city’s official surrender.

Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freedpeople, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.” The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song “John Brown’s Body.” Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantrymen. Within the cemetery enclosure a black children’s choir sang “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” the “Star-Spangled Banner” and spirituals before a series of black ministers read from the Bible.

After the dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantrymen participating were the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.

Hat tip: David W. Blight, NY Times

 

 

2018 Graduation: Photos from the Library and Beyond

Students at Brooklyn Law School spend a lot of time in the library.  It was perhaps fitting that even as their law school journey drew to a close at graduation on May 18, the BLS Class of 2018 couldn’t quite escape the library.   

At the commencement ceremony, class speaker Maria Ortiz reminded graduates of the quote from “A League of Their Own” that every BLS student has passed countless times given its prominent display in the library stairwell: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it… The hard is what makes it great.”  When the happy graduates returned to BLS after the ceremony, many headed to the library’s third floor Nash Reading Room with family and friends to celebrate over food and drink.  The Nash Reading Room only opened last fall (official dedication to come soon!), and it was wonderful to see it transformed into a place of joyous celebration. Build it and they will come.

We look forward to continue seeing familiar faces over the summer as many newly-minted alums will be using the library for their bar exam studies.  Here are some photos from the graduation festivities in the library and beyond. (Thanks to Jean Davis for taking most of these photos!)

Congratulations and all the best to the Brooklyn Law School Class of 2018!!

2018 Commencement Speakers at NY Area Law Schools

Graduation season is here and Brooklyn Law School holds its 117th Commencement Ceremony today at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. The commencement speaker was Hon. Dora L. Irizarry, Chief United States District Judge, Eastern District of New York. Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2004, Dora L. Irizarry is the first Hispanic District Judge to serve in the Eastern District of New York. On April 23, 2016, she became the first Hispanic Chief Judge of the Eastern District of New York, and the first Hispanic woman Chief Judge within the Second Circuit. Born in Puerto Rico, and raised in the South Bronx, she attended public schools, and graduated cum laude with honors and distinction in the major of Political Sociology from Yale University in 1976. In 1979, she graduated from Columbia Law School, where she was a Charles Evans Hughes Fellow, and joined the Bronx District Attorney’s Office Appeals Bureau. Assigned to the New York City Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office, she investigated and prosecuted some of the City’s largest complex narcotics cases. She also served in the New York County District Attorney’s Office, the New York State Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, and as a special prosecutor in the U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Commencement speakers at other area law schools this year are:

New York

  • Albany Law School – Hon.  Michael J. Garcia, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals
  • Buffalo Law School – Terrence M. Connors of Connors LLP
  • Cardozo School of Law — Hon. Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  • Columbia Law School — Jeh Johnson, Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
  • CUNY School of Law — Paul Butler, former prosecutor and law professor of Georgetown University
  • Fordham University School of Law —Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
  • Hofstra School of Law — Ronan Farrow, Pulitzer Prize investigative journalist
  • New York Law School — Hon. Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court
  • New York University School of Law — Bryan Stevenson, NYU Law Professor and Equal Justice Initiative Executive Director
  • Pace University School of Law — Eric Gonzalez, Kings County District Attorney
  • St. John’s University School of Law — Hon. Preet Bharara, Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
  • Syracuse University College of Law — Hon. Preet Bharara, Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
  • Touro Law Center — Hon. Joseph Crowley, U.S. Representative, 14th District of New York
New Jersey
  • Rutgers University School of Law at Newark — Hon. Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey Attorney General
  • Seton Hall Law School — Hon. Jovita Carranza, U.S. Treasurer