PUBLISHED:May 05, 2021

New Race and the Law Speakers Series confronts America’s systemic racism


New speakers series provides academic and historic lens for law students grappling with the high-profile killings of Black Americans by law enforcement in 2020.

Race and the Law two box

This spring semester, three Duke Law professors renowned for their legal expertise in the areas of colorism, race and politics, and civil right movements developed and taught a new Race and the Law speakers series at Duke Law. The latter came in response to America’s volatile reckoning with its history of systemic racism.

Jerome M. Culp Professor of Law Trina Jones; Guy-Uriel Charles, the Edward and Ellen Schwarzman Professor of Law and co-director of the Duke Law Center on Law, Race and Politics; and H. Timothy Lovelace, Jr., the John Hope Franklin Research Scholar and Professor of Law, collaborated on and shared teaching responsibilities for the course.

“Professors Lovelace, Charles, and I wanted to offer a vehicle through which students might place 2020 in a larger historical frame and through which they might consider the role of law in struggles for racial justice,” Jones said.

“Because these are complex issues, we also wanted to offer them real-time expert commentary on urgent contemporary challenges, as well as our own differing perspectives. Thus, we decided to co-teach the law school’s Race and the Law seminar and to construct a speakers series for students who could not enroll in the seminar.”

The readings and class discussions provided Duke Law students with an informed academic and historic lens through which to view 2020—a year marred by political unrest, a worldwide health crisis, and the high-profile deaths of Black Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among others. The speakers series gave students direct access to notable activists, authors, and scholars on the front lines of racial justice work. 

Serena Tibrewala JD/LLM’21 said, “Unfortunately, most legal classes do not tackle the fundamental question of how racism impacts the law and, perhaps more importantly, how the law has often upheld and promoted racist views. This class and the speakers were a perfect opportunity for me to dive deeper into these issues and to understand the many facets in which race and the law intersect.”

The speakers series included: Amna Akbar, associate professor of Law at The Ohio State University; noted author and Yale scholar Reginald Dwayne Betts; Dr. Lisa D. Cook, a professor of economics and international relations at Michigan State University; James Forman Jr., the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale University; Alicia Garza, an American civil rights activist, author, and co-creator of the international Black Lives Matter movement; Michele Bratcher Goodwin, the Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law; Randall Kennedy, the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University; Ian Haney López, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley; Richard C. Schragger, the Perre Bowen Professor of Law and Martha Lubin Karsh and Bruce A. Karsh Bicentennial Professor of Law at the University of Virginia; and Micah J. Schwartzman, the Hardy Cross Dillard Professor of Law and director of the Karsh Center for Law and Democracy.

Duke Law | Race and the Law: Speakers Series

Professor Ian Haney López

Ian Haney López, a racial justice scholar and the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke to students as part of Duke Law's "Race and the Law" course and speaker series.