Thomas Sugrue: Law school students need to be taught about history of racism, he says





So much of a traditional legal education is geared toward passing the bar.

But sometimes issues of social justice can become lost amid the study of torts, contracts and civil procedure.

Frank H. Wu, the outgoing dean of Wayne State University Law School, has made it his mission to change that....

To prepare his students for this future, Wu and his wife, Carol"Debbie" Izumi, pledged $125,000 over a five-year period to create the Izumi Family Fund.

Named in honor of Izumi's parents, Japanese-Americans who were held in Northern California's Tula Lake Internment Camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the fund provides an endowment for"the exclusive purpose of supporting activities of the law school."...

Enter Thomas J. Sugrue.

According to Wu, Sugrue is"the leading historian of our generation, working on the issues of urban America."

In particular, his 1996 book, Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, is"the single most important book ever written on Detroit since World War II," Wu said.

Given Wayne State University Law School's longstanding commitment to the City of Detroit, [ Peter J. Hammer, vice chair of the Izumi Fund Board of Directors] called Sugrue"a perfect match for the fund."

With that ringing endorsement, the University of Pennsylvania professor was invited to the law school, where he spoke with students and community members alike about Jim Crowe's Last Stand: Detroit and the Unfinished Struggle for Civil Rights in the North.

Sugrue captivated the audience with his theory that the civil rights movement stopped short of securing equality for minorities living above the Mason-Dixon Line.

Specifically, he said,"The history of Detroit has served as a prime example of the decline of the civil rights movement."

Noting that while"the North was never a place of primeval white innocence, it has a long history of organized resistance to integration."

Sugrue has made it his life's work to dispel that myth.

"How we remember the past ... has real stakes for the present," he explained to attendees. But,"our nostalgia for the civil rights era and our marginalization of the history of the North is detrimental to the pursuit of racial equality."

By taking his message to Wayne State's law students, Sugrue continued his fight against the cycle of misinformation and disinterest.

"Law is one the most historical of disciplines ... [and] over the past 100 years, the courts have been an important forum for those interested in remedying America's long history of racial inequality," he explained....




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