Home
HLS homeNews & EventsAbout the BulletinBack IssuesSend Us Your NewsSearch

Issue
 Home Briefs Letters Gallery Class Notes In Memoriam Closing
 

Letters

Reparations Article Shows HLS Values Have Gone Astray
I was appalled at the publication in the Bulletin of a sympathetic article regarding the slavery reparations movement engineered by Randall Robinson and Charles Ogletree Jr., among others ("Breaking the Chain" by Emily Newburger). That many of you at HLS think there is any merit to such preposterous claims is what I find to be particularly troubling. In my eyes and in the eyes, no doubt, of most "white" Americans (persons of European ancestry), these demands amount to no more than attempts at extortion ("No Justice, No Peace"--i.e., "cough up your worldly goods, or we'll make your life a living hell") or the payment of tribute. There is no theory in law or in morality that I know of where people who are in no way responsible for the creation or perpetuation of a wrong (in this case, slavery) are made to compensate other people living today who have in no way suffered the wrong or any of its aftereffects. Compensation of Holocaust survivors or Japanese-American internees offers no historical parallels or precedents.

Looking kindly and tolerantly on such claims is not only fatuous from the perspective of those most likely to be adversely affected if they succeed, but dangerous as well. Among many whites, the movement will produce an unending sense of unjust imposition and bitterness; among blacks, a bottomless well of resentment, which God-knows-what will ever draw dry. It could lead to a permanent alienation of the blacks and whites in this country, to the benefit of neither of them, and perhaps to civil war, such as exists in Israel today between Palestinians and Jews. Ancient wrongs (and slavery was certainly that!) are best forgotten because there is no way they can be repaired once those most directly affected have passed on. The bearing of ancient grudges leads to endless conflict, which is what the Balkans should teach us.

It has become increasingly clear to me that people who run things at HLS--and, I might add, Harvard University as well--no longer share any of my values. In fact, I would go so far as to say I think you are propagating evil doctrines, both in law and in politics, that will eventuate in disaster for this country in the same way that Nazi and Communist doctrines eventuated in disaster for Germany and the Soviet Union. Therefore, I have decided that I cannot in good conscience continue to support whatever it is that you do there at the School financially. Please take me off your mailing list and no longer consider me an alumnus.
Barton Ingraham '57
Santa Fe, N.Mex.

Harvard Owes Debt to Descendants of Slaves
I could not help but note a certain irony in the summer issue of the Bulletin. On the one hand, you published "Breaking the Chain," an engaging article about reparations for African-American slavery. On the other, you devoted a full page to proudly recalling the School's indebtedness to Isaac Royall, whose iron seal was discovered in a closet in Widener Library and is now numbered among "HLS treasure(s)." Surely it has not escaped your attention that the property with which Royall endowed the Law School was purchased from the profits of his slave plantation in Antigua. (See Sutherland, The Law at Harvard, pp. 32-42.)

In your discussion of the reparations claim, you note the position of some members of the Harvard faculty as follows: "At a time when so many Americans are the descendants of post-Emancipation immigrants, why penalize those who have no link to American slavery through deed or blood? Others dismiss the effort as impractical, foreseeing towering legal hurdles, such as the doctrine of sovereign immunity." Whatever may be the merits of these concerns about a suit against the federal government, they are hardly applicable to a constructive trust suit by the Antiguan descendants of Royall's slaves against Harvard University. Indeed one wonders why Harvard waits for such a suit when the justice of their own claim seems so apparent.
Catharine Wells '76
Newton, Mass.

Editor's note: Royall's role in the slave trade was noted in the article "Breaking the Chain."

Reparations Would Lead to Hostility
To the extent that Charles Ogletree and Randall Robinson advocate that living African-Americans be paid reparations for the wrongs of slavery, they are playing with fire. Few things are more likely to inspire racial hatred than the notion that contemporary white Americans, who had nothing to do with slavery, should pay their tax dollars to contemporary African-Americans, who were never slaves.
Rick Sims '68
Sacramento, Calif.

Repercussions of Slavery Still Felt
I've read with interest the article in the Summer 2001 Harvard Law Bulletin on the efforts of Professor Charles Ogletree and Randall Robinson regarding reparations for America's treatment of African-Americans, enslaved and otherwise, over the past three centuries.

While few can rationally deny the appropriateness of other attempts to remedy the lingering effects of slavery, from the reconstruction amendments in the early civil rights legislation through affirmative action, the fact of the matter is that by any objective measure, these efforts have either been thwarted or otherwise have not gone far enough in making whole those who suffered due to the effects of this institution. To those who fear that even a debate on the issue of reparations would widen the racial gap among African-Americans, other ethnic groups, and Anglos, I would suggest that anything more than a casual look at our current society indicates that this gap continues to widen despite the progress of some individuals and institutions.

The concept of reparations is not new to our legal framework. Our government has paid reparations to the families of Americans of Japanese descent who were interned during World War II. Private entities have similarly not been immune from this concept. As noted in the article, Stuart Eizenstat '67 successfully negotiated an agreement with private businesses that acknowledged the use of Jewish slave labor during World War II (I somehow missed the huge outcry over the alleged impropriety of that initiative).

The current mantra seems to be "I never owned slaves, and no one in my family did, either." The indisputable fact is that the condition of millions of African-Americans today is directly related to centuries of both governmental and business policies that have worked in concert to ensure that they remained at the lowest strata of the society. Concomitantly, both this government and private business have shown no compunction whatsoever about enjoying the fruits of the labor of these individuals.

Professor Ogletree and Randall Robinson note that their goal is not to acquire for each African-American "40 acres and a Lexus." They correctly opine that many of those who have been most adversely impacted would be helped least by direct type of payment. A more systemic approach to addressing what continues (and will continue for the foreseeable future) to be America's most pressing social problems is properly sought. The very commencement of this dialogue is a worthy step.

I applaud the courage of Professor Ogletree and Mr. Robinson to at least address this issue.
Eric Moyé '79
Dallas, Tex.

Lawsuit on Reparations an Abuse of System
What is disturbing about the article on "slavery reparations" is its inclusion in the Bulletin, a legal publication. Professor Ogletree and committee project a class action lawsuit versus the federal government. This trivializes the legal system by importing into it a sociopolitical issue best handled in the congressional arena.

Filing such a lawsuit should be met by a Motion for Sanctions under Rule 11 in order to punish litigation abuse and frivolous claims. Providing for substantial award of attorneys' fees to defendant should follow, since the claim was not well grounded in law and fact.

A strong deterrent is needed to discourage this sort of legal abuse and restore public confidence in the courts and the legal profession.
R. J. McMahon '45
Providence, R.I.

Issue Is Worthy of Debate
I was troubled to read in the Summer 2001 Bulletin that some critics, including members of the HLS faculty, think the issue of reparations for American slavery should not even be debated. In law school, I was taught that questioning and debate lead to a deeper level of understanding. Yet here scholars examining historical injustices are told that the very question they investigate, not just the conclusion, is without merit. They are accused of living in the past or being un-American. The opposite is true. Their efforts are born out of a commitment to improving the collective emotional and historical landscape all Americans share. I would like to extend my gratitude to Prof. Charles Ogletree, Randall Robinson, and the Reparations Coordinating Committee for their patriotic work.
Kevin Harrington '99
Mountain View, Calif.

African-Americans Should Seek Opportunities, Not Lawsuit
While I have great respect for Professor Ogletree's intellect and commitment to cause, it is my view that a reparations suit focuses energy in the wrong area, encourages African-Americans to continue to see themselves as victims, and holds the potential to be the most racially divisive issue in recent memory.

We live in an age where technology empowers the individual and his or her entrepreneurial instincts. African-Americans should be encouraged by leaders like Professor Ogletree to take hold of the opportunities all around them in America (as have more recent waves of immigrants) instead of attempting to lay siege to the U.S. Treasury funded by their fellow citizens.
J. A. McMullen '73
Burlington, Vt.

Letters on Reno Didn't Belong in Magazine
I was very disappointed that the Harvard Law Bulletin published the letters of William Sumner '59 and William Dailey '63 in the Summer 2001 issue regarding Attorney General Reno. Mr. Sumner's letter constituted nothing more than rude name-calling, and I would have thought that the Bulletin would be more judicious in its choice of letters to publish. If the letter contained a well-reasoned criticism of Reno's performance, that would be different. However, Mr. Sumner's letter did not, resorting to personal insult instead.

Mr. Dailey then implies that Ms. Reno feels nothing about the Waco victims. Having recently heard an interview of Ms. Reno on public radio, it sounds as though she is deeply troubled by what happened and wonders how things might have been done differently. It is clear, too, that Mr. Dailey's letter is also not much more than an emotion-based attack on Ms. Reno. While I certainly understand and respect that the Bulletin may wish to give everyone the opportunity to view their opinions, do you publish every letter? Perhaps it would be helpful to publish the criteria by which you decide what letters to publish? While censorship is never good and rarely warranted, I doubt this forum constitutes one where we all have any right or expectation to be heard, regardless of how inappropriate the content. I hope that we can limit the discussion to that which is more reasoned and less emotional.
Dayne Myers '88
Half Moon Bay, Calif.

Editor's note: The Bulletin publishes letters from alumni that address the contents of the magazine. Exceptions are letters that are judged libelous or obscene. If we receive a large number of letters on the same subject, space considerations may require us to choose a representative sampling. All letters are subject to editing for space and clarity. The two letters to which Mr. Myers refers were the only letters the Bulletin received on the Janet Reno story, which appeared in the Spring 2001 issue.

Championing Abortion Rights Is Not Ethical
The Summer 2001 Harvard Law Bulletin contains an article "In the Money," written by Margie Kelley. It says: "They [Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger] have been stalwarts of ethical business practices, . . . have even championed abortion rights . . ."

To champion "abortion rights"--is this to be considered by Harvard Law Bulletin as "ethical"? In most civilized countries the killing of unborn children is in principle illegal. It is most regrettable that Harvard Law Bulletin seems to imply that the killing of children in the womb is "ethical."
Klaus Beckmann '79
Düsseldorf, Germany

Grandeur in the Law Found in the Basics
John Zeglis '72 advises his daughter entering HLS to "stick to the basics," in the Bulletin's Summer 2001 story "Not Your Father's Harvard Law School."

The article goes on to tell about the diversity of programs now available to HLS students. No further reference is made to the father's good advice.

I am reminded of the comment of Arthur Rubinstein, one of the greatest pianists of all time: "It is necessary to master thoroughly the techniques of piano playing, so that one may be free to exploit and interpret the grandeur of the composer's music."

What an apt analogy! The idea that excellence and "grandeur" in the law can be achieved without grounding in the fundamentals of the legal system; training in the Socratic method; and knowledge of the philosophic underpinnings of the law, is a fantasy. Regardless of the substantive area, a thorough facility with the "basics," as John Zeglis calls it, is a sine qua non to a successful practice.
Paul Mishkin '48
New York, N.Y.

Lodges Aren't Included in Original Verse
I'll assume your intention was not to deify the Lodge family ("A Lodge Out West," Summer 2001 issue), but you've stuck them in the place usually reserved for God in the old (and, I thought, well-known) quatrain about who, in Boston, talks to whom. The Lodges don't figure at all in the original version. Inserting them would, among other things, ruin the rhyme (unless one were, say, to substitute "stodge" for "cod").

For an added Harvard connection, note that the Lowells and the Cabots both got undergraduate houses named after them, while the Lodges are so far homeless. This is, perhaps, fortunate, as "Lodge House" doesn't really ring.
Scot Johnston '84
Seattle, Wash.

Editor's note: The original verse, from a toast by John Collins Bossidy in 1910:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God.

We Want to Hear from You
The Harvard Law Bulletin welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to the Harvard Law Bulletin, 1581 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138. Fax comments to (617) 495-3501 or e-mail the Bulletin at bulletin@law.harvard.edu. Letters may be edited to fit available space.

Correction
A story in the Summer 2001 issue on Adjunct Professor Michael Levine and airline deregulation misstated the name of the board for which he served as general director. It is the Civil Aeronautics Board. In a story on the Public Interest Auction, Justin Lerer '02 should have been identified as the student who successfully bid on a poker game with Professor Elena Kagan '86. In addition, because of incorrect information provided by Harvard University, two alumni were mistakenly listed in the In Memoriam section. Stanley Sloss '67 and Thomas Wathen '92 have graciously informed us they are very much alive. We regret the errors.



back to top

contents send feedback about this article

 
 Contact: bulletin@law.harvard.edu - 617.495.3118
 © 2005 The President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.