I’d like to thank Al for inviting me to blog here for a stint.
As he mentioned in the post introducing me, I’m finishing a manuscript on the epithet Uncle Tom. In the book, I start from the premise that racial solidarity is one tool that can help blacks advance their legal goals, as perfectly illustrated by the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I argue that social norms—the rules that regulate behavior in groups that are enforced through sanction—that punish racial treachery can help strengthen the bonds of solidarity. My thesis, in short, is that the maintenance of constructive social norms to police racial loyalty, by helping build solidarity, can aid blacks in promoting their legal interests and ability to affect public policy. This is observable by following the life of Uncle Tom, a common punishment for disregarding these “racial loyalty norms.” Constructive norms help build solidarity. Destructive norms operate in the opposite direction. This work distinguishes between the two and argues for a continued use of constructive norms.
I’ll talk more about the substance of the book later perhaps. But while researching, I found what I thought was an interesting tale. All readers, I’m assuming, know the story of Sweatt v. Painter (1950)—Heman Marion Sweatt’s successful effort to integrate the University of Texas School of Law. In 1947, Texas, because the state had no black law school, created the Texas State University for Negroes School of Law, which the Baltimore Afro-American, a black newspaper, derisively called the “Texas JC (Jim Crow) Law school.” It consisted of three rooms in a basement across the street from the state capitol.
Thurgood Marshall, while an NAACP attorney, called the school “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and said that one of the first students at the school “had the remnants of a Negro slave.” Marshall hated the idea of the school as he was in the middle of a strategy to desegregate American education. He also criticized the black students who enrolled in the school because their presence might have legitimated the institution and supported the argument that the new law school and UT Law were equal and not violative of the Equal Protection Clause.
What’s odd is that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” now bears his name. Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston was formerly Texas State University for Negroes School of Law.
I wonder if Marshall ever spoke at the school after the name change. If he did, how awkward was it? Did those who were responsible for the name change know this back story? I don’t know the answers to these questions; they are beyond the scope of my book. But I thought the curious story was worth recounting.
Edit: Bob Jarvis writes: "When TSU named its law school for him, Justice Marshall spoke at the naming ceremony (held on Saturday, February 14, 1976). His speech is reprinted at 4 TSU Law Review 191-95 (1977)."