Harvard Conference Examines Brown vs. Board

The modern day implications of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education court case—the topic of Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow’s recent book—were discussed in a conference Saturday afternoon.

The event, which featured professors from Harvard, Yale, and NYU, marks the second collaboration between the Law School and the Humanities Center at Harvard.

The conference’s two panel discussions addressed what Humanities Center Director Homi K. Bhabha called “the thorny issues of integration, choice, and inequality” in the American educational system.

Minow said she was “thrilled” about the event. “This is the kind of thing you dream about happening—people reading what you wrote and discussing it,” she said.

Randall L. Kennedy, Harvard law professor and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, noted that while numerous books have been written on the important court case, Minow’s book adds to the discussion by “dramatically enlarging the frame in which we see Brown.”


Dean of Harvard College Evelynn M. Hammonds, who said she attended segregated schools in Atlanta until the age of 14, said that she felt a personal connection to the book.

“I and my classmates wondered why we did not have new books or swimming the schools, racial tensions were on display on the playing field and in classroom encounters that are too numerous to list,” Hammonds said. “I’m glad that Martha wrote this book. In a deeply personal way, it reminded me of how much my parents’ generation was deeply invested in Brown.”

Bhabha said the conference made him realize that he had also been “bused” to school as a child.

Bhabha described how he travelled from his home in Bombay, India to a nearby Roman Catholic Jesuit school.

“Full disclosure—I was ‘bused’ in a private car with a chauffeur,” Bhabha added to the audience’s amusement, but he clarified by saying that many of the socioeconomic tensions that existed in segregated America were also on display in India.

Bhabha said he felt the conference was an enriching experience for all the attendees.

“I certainly came away from it with a much richer understanding of the issues of equality, integration, and choice in their legal, political, social, and ethical dimensions,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Audience members echoed his sentiments.

“While the panel asked more questions than it answered, it was interesting to hear lawyers’ perspectives on these issues,” said Jennifer M. Huntington, who worked in the public education system as both a teacher and a principal for 27 years.

While Huntington said she was disappointed that there were no public school educators on the panel, she added, “I’m definitely going to go buy a copy of Minow’s book now!”

While there are no specific joint events currently planned between the Law School and the Humanities Center in the near future, Bhabha said in an e-mail that the partnership is “a thriving collaboration that will certainly continue. Dean Minow and I are both committed to giving the ‘legal humanities’ a robust presence on campus.”

—Staff writer Zachary Hamed can be reached at


Recommended Articles