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Program Takes Aim at Injustice

By Jack Muse, Contributing Writer

On the heels of a weeklong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, Harvard Law School (HLS) announced yesterday the formation of a program aimed at promoting racial justice.

Climenko Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree will direct the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, which will begin operations sometime in the fall of 2005.

The move caps a month in which the University has been vocal in its reaffirmation of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision on school desegregation. A series of panels and lectures that ran from April 12-17 drew luminaries from both the legal and educational worlds, including President Lawrence H. Summers and Fred Gray, who served as legal counsel for both Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

According to Ogletree, these programs have highlighted Harvard’s continued pledge to equality in education.

“Harvard has had an unbroken commitment to affirmative action and integrated education over the last fifty years,” Ogletree said, citing Harvard’s support of Brown as well as the pro-affirmative action rulings in 1978’s University of California v. Bakke and last year’s Grant et al. v. University of Michigan.

The Institute is named in honor of the 1922 HLS graduate who was instrumental in the legal battles that paved the way for the Brown victory.

“Charles Hamilton Houston was a scholar and an activist who had a tremendous impact on American society. Some have called him the man who stopped Jim Crow,” HLS Dean Elena Kagan said in a statement released yesterday. “[I]n many ways, Charles Ogletree continues the work of Houston today—I’m thrilled that he will lead this new institute.”

While the details of the Institute’s day-to-day operations have yet to be ironed out, it will support research, organize conferences and offer policy analysis pertaining to race and justice, with emphasis on voting rights, affirmative action and criminal justice.

Ogletree said the Institute will initially focus on several issues: assessing Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s claim that affirmative action will no longer be needed in 25 years, evaluating the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which is up for reauthorization in 2007, combating wrongful criminal convictions and facilitating the assimilation of prison inmates back into society.

While these endeavors already have the full backing of the University, Ogletree said he also hopes that students at both the graduate and undergraduate levels will play an integral role in the Institute.

“Students are going to be studying, researching and working on policy, engaged in advocacy and ultimately performing a variety of public services,” he said. “There will be courses, conferences, think tank sessions, public service opportunities and opportunities for internships.”

The formation of the Houston Institute is the latest in a string of efforts by Ogletree to combat racial inequality in America.

Ogletree spearheaded a lawsuit seeking reparations for a 1921 race riot in Tulsa and recently released All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education.

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