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August 03, 2015

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Alfred L. Brophy

Really great post, Ariela. Thanks for joining us -- and thanks for Double Character, which is one of my very most favorite books of legal history and always a hit with the students in my legal history class. Looking forward to teaching it again this fall.

I've been wondering a lot about Jean Louise and thanks for focusing on her. She's obviously bound by her up-bringing (the concern over the Tenth Amendment is a great example of this, though I wonder how much this is she's just looking for common ground with Atticus). To your question, will she be largely a supporter of "race neutral" principles -- there's the slogan, which I guess is drawn from William Jennings Bryan? -- “Equal rights for all; special privileges for none.” That sure sounds like color-blind jurisprudence.

But there are some other pieces of evidence that may suggest she'd go further. She criticizes Atticus for his cold justice that doesn't take account of humans -- and that sounds like something that's not just simple legal equal (color-blind), but more flexible. She urges "the time has come when we’ve got to do right." And she also asks "Has anybody, in all the wrangling and high words over states’ rights and what kind of government we should have, thought about helping the Negroes." I'm a little unsure of how to think about this -- is this a part of her paternalism? Or is it more along the lines of what DuBois said, that legislation should be designed not just to regulate and control African Americans but to help them?

I agree that Jean Louise reveals the very distinct limits on southern liberalism -- but I also wonder if there was more space there for Jean Louise to support a robust civil rights agenda beyond "formal" equality.

Anders Walker

Ariela and Al, great points on Jean Louise. The most revealing passage to me was Jean Louise's meditation on her upbringing by Atticus and Calpurnia, an interracial but also Platonic couple, a point that Lee underscores by invoking classical motifs (Calpurnia Caesar's 3rd wife and Atticus a reference to ancient Greece). This stands in stark contrast to Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson, the failed couple who are condemned because Mayella tries to lure Robinson into physical intimacy. Jim Crow, we are left to deduce, allows for close, personal relationships that are emotionally fulfilling and spiritually sustaining, provided they don't involve sexual contact.

Mary Ellen Maatman

The "equal rights for all; special privileges for none" slogan takes on a negative meaning in TKM. An anti-semitic teacher uses the slogan in an episode towards the end of the book. It can be a nice-sounding call to equality, but it also can echo segregationist complaints that African Americans were somehow being treated as "special favorites of the law" when courts handed down pro-civil rights rulings. I think its meaning and significance (or lack of it) depends on how you construe "equal rights": a segregationist would construe it in line with Plessy v. Ferguson, and would see modern equal protection rulings as granting unwarranted "special privileges."

Alfred L. Brophy

Thanks for this, Mary Ellen.

I don't have TKAM in front of me now, but my memory is that Scout uses the "equal rights for all; special privileges for none" slogan as a way of defining democracy -- and her teacher (Miss Gates?) was not anti-semetic, but was like so many other people, anti-black. I'm thinking that in the 11950s the slogan might be taken as a call for formal equality (as I think I indicated in my first comment on Ariela's post -- looks like she's pointed in the direction of a color-blind jurisprudence). I don't know as anyone in the 1930s was thinking that the courts were granting special privileges to African Americans.

But as to the slogan more generally, I thought it was a paraphrase of Democratic party principles -- didn't William Jennings Bryan say something like this?

Mary Ellen Maatman

It took me a day to dig up my copy of TKAM.

I'm remembering the teacher Miss Gates, in chapter 26. What I misremembered is that Scout (not Miss Gates) recites "equal rights for all, special privileges for none" as the definition of democracy. Miss Gates approves of this definition, and has the class recite "We are a Democracy." She then expounds on how America's status as a democracy differentiates it from Germany, and claims: "[O]ver here we don't believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced." She further claims she does not understand why Hitler would persecute Jewish people.

A few pages later, Scout tries to square Miss Gates' outburst over Hitler with her racial animus, which was revealed after Tom's trial when Scout overheard her telling Miss Stephanie Crawford "it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson . . . the next thing they think they can do is marry us."

Although I definitely misremembered some key aspects, the chapter's ending makes me think that the democracy definition is something of an empty slogan if the teacher can so enthusiastically subscribe to it yet fall so far short of recognizing her own prejudices and the true nature of democracy and equality.

Alfred L. Brophy

Agreed on this 100%, Mary Ellen. The grim reality fell far, far short of the slogan, and in the hands of unfriendly interpreters it might not have been much of hope -- as your show with Teacher Gates.

Mary Ellen Maatman

A last thought I had about the democracy slogan is that it parallels Atticus' TKAM closing argument. He talks about how there's one great equalizer: the courts. Yet, the courts of the Jim Crow era quite notoriously did not serve that function. Both the slogan and the closing reveal that simply talking about equality and "saying the right words" will not in themselves bring about democracy or equality.

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