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Justice Older Than Law… In the Limelight

With the beginning of each year, faculty and students get together for an evening of fun and literature.  This year, the 1L Book Discussions are centralized around the book, Justice Older than Law: The Life of Dovey Johnson Roundtree.  Behind the story: Katie McCabe & Dovey Johnson Roundtree wrote an amazing book together published in 2009.  Justice Older than Law is one of  those books you don’t forget – it’s one that details the story of a woman that tells the story of a nation.

So here’s a snippet of what to expect (I am going to apologize in advance for any injustice done to Katie McCabe’s voice and Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s story in this excerpt).  For an audio excerpt by McCabe, click here.

Dovey Mae Johnson was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, and her story begins at that the lowest vantage point: her grandmother’s feet.  Johnson tells the story of how her grandmother’s feet were deformed and mangled by fighting off one of the slave masters of her childhood.  The story tells of how her grandmother fought off the white man, but left her permanently scarred by the attack.  The scarring had to be soothed daily as her grandmother’s feet were never healed.  Throughout the book, Johnson refers back to this story of injustice, the constant pain of the battles fought for justice, and the courage and ferocity she learned from her grandma Rachel.  “Like a mighty stream, her courage flowed through [Johnson’s] childhood, shaping [her] as rushing water shapes the pebbles in its path” (p. 5)
Johnson’s quest for greatness started simply: her eighth grade teacher, Miss. Edythe Wimbish.  With the love and support of her mother and grandfather, Johnson found her way through education.  Whether reading the encyclopedias bought penny by penny by her grandfather or her own mother’s vision of Johnson’s greatness, Dovey found a way into a different world: Spelman.
At Spelman, a literature professor named Mary Mae Neptune became her mentor, encouraging Johnson to think critically and question world events through scrutizing newspapers, with particular attention to the articles detailing Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.  According to Johnson, “the New York Times was our Bible, and [Miss Neptune] expected everyone who crossed the threshold of [the Campus Mirror newspaper office] to read it — not quickly, not at a glance as we typed up our stories, not on the run, but closely and carefully and analytically” (p. 28). In those years, Johnson “learned a truth [she] would carry with [her] in the years to come: what had cowed those half million folk upon whom Hitler had set his sights was the same kind of intimidation [she] had known every day of [her] life” (p. 30).
After Roundtree’s adventures with the military, she found herself at Howard Law School right at the heart of the civil rights movement.  Roundtree witnessed first hand oral arguments that forever changed America.
That’s all for now folks, because I don’t want to spoil the book for you.  We have a couple copies of the book in our collection available for our students, staff and faculty to check out. Also, Katie McCabe wrote an excellent article in the Washingtonian that parallels the book, She Had a Dream, The Washingtonian (March 2002).  Look forward to more reviews and insights after this week’s 1L discussions!
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