Minnesota Law

Fall 2020
For the Record

Law Library Debuts New Exhibit: 'Law and the Struggle for Racial Justice"

IN SEPTEMBER, the Law Library’s Riesenfeld Rare Books Research Center opened a new exhibit on racial justice, adding to a number of important conversations at the Law School regarding race and the law. The exhibit, “Law and the Struggle for Racial Justice: Selected Materials from the Riesenfeld Rare Books Center,” explores the quest for racial justice in America through historical legal cases, legislation, and events that saw civil rights denied, limited, and advanced by determined legal and political action. Drawing on the Riesenfeld Center’s rich collections, the exhibit focuses on Black Americans’ struggle to achieve rights and justice, from early antislavery movements to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and responses to police brutality in the 1980s.

The 16 items on display touch on both familiar and lesser-known historical moments. A rare copy of an 1804 antislavery speech, delivered to the free Black community of Philadelphia, witnesses the community’s active involvement in the early abolition movement. An 1872 legal case, decided during Reconstruction, typifies the antagonism of the U.S. Supreme Court to civil rights legislation in the post-Civil War period. Another item, a New Jersey bill from 1883, represents one of the earliest state proposals for equal public accommodations. Those efforts suffered, however, in the face of Jim Crow laws that prevailed in the courts, culminating in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and rising violence against Black Americans.

The exhibit also underscores the evolving challenges of racism in the 20th century. The nationally publicized trials of the Sweet family in 1925 occurred against a back ground of housing discrimination enforced by restrictive covenants and intimidation. The Law Library’s Clarence Darrow collection contains numerous documents from these cases, which involved the successful defense of an African American doctor who protected his family and property from a mob gathered outside his Detroit home. Another item, a commission report addressed to New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia following the Harlem riot of 1935, urges reforms to end police misconduct and discriminatory practices in housing, employment, education, and health care. A copy of the 1937 autobiography of Black labor organizer Angelo Herndon is signed and inscribed by the author, and a 1972 magazine article autographed by Rosa Parks reflects on the significance of the Montgomery bus boycott. 

Two final items reveal a few of the many contributions by members of the Law School community to issues of racial justice, and to policing in particular. In the early 1980s, Ronald E. Hunter ’78, Edward C. Anderson ’73, Judy Oakes ’69, G. Thomas MacIntosh ’65, G. Alan Cunningham ’51, and Russell W. Lindquist ’45 served on a task force to review and recommend procedural reforms for the Internal Affairs Unit of the Minneapolis Police Department, at the request of Minneapolis Mayor Donald M. Fraser ’48. A letter from Fraser to Hunter supporting the work of the task force is included in the exhibit. A 1982 petition to the U.N. regarding police brutality against Black Americans by then-student Arthur “Ray” McCoy ’83 is also displayed. The exhibit shows that racial injustice continues to raise difficult questions that we must address as we recommit ourselves to building a fair and equal society. 

A digital version of "Law and the Struggle for Racial Justice" has been released online:

For more information about the exhibit or the Risenfeld Rare Books Research Center, please contact Ryan Greenwood (rgreenwo@umn.edu; 612-625-7323)

Law Library Launches Guide on Law Enforcement and Racial Justice

In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, Vicente Garces, reference administration and web services librarian, researched and prepared an in-depth research guide entitled “Law Enforcement and Racial Justice.” This timely guide, which has been recognized by the American Association of Law Libraries for its relevance, provides access to multiple resources for researching issues related to policing and racial injustice.

The guide features a wide variety of sources: numerous Law Library and University databases, print materials, and publicly available online documents. It is organized to provide researchers with access to sources on specific topics, including police tactics and use of force; police/community relations, community policing, and community activism; and police oversight. Minnesota-specific sources are included, as is the University of Minnesota Law School’s response.

View Digital Version of Guide: