Remembering Professor Wally MacBain

Former Marquette law professor Wallace Alexander MacBain, III passed away on July 17, 2009, as the result of complications from a fall at his home in Nashotah, Wisconsin.  Professor MacBain was born in Audubon, New Jersey, on March 21, 1933.  His father, Wallace A. MacBain, Jr., was a member of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipworkers of America. 

Prof. MacBain graduated magna cum laude from Rutgers Law School in 1959 where he was also a member of the law review.  He spent the early years of his  professional life involved with school desegregation issues and served as a consultant to the United States government on that subject.  He joined the Marquette faculty in 1965 where he remained until his retirement at the end of the 1994-95 academic year.  As a faculty member, he served under Deans Seitz, Boden, DeGuire, and Barkan.

At Marquette, he served for several years as director of admissions (when that was still a position held by a faculty member).  Over the course of his career he taught a wide variety of courses, but his specialties were Constitutional Law, Civil Rights Legislation, and Conflicts of Law.  He was frequently quoted in the Milwaukee newspapers, and his most widely cited article had to do with the insanity defense.

His colleagues remember him as a devoted academic citizen and as a wonderful story teller.  He is survived by his wife as well as two children and two step-children and a number of grandchildren.

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Law Professors Reflect on Brown v. Board of Education

phoebewilliamsThe United States Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education is without question one of the most significant cases in modern constitutional law.  It was also a defining event in the lives of a generation of American law teachers.  Vanderbilt University Press has recently published Law Touched Our Hearts: A Generation Remembers Brown v. Board of Education (2009). The book, edited by Professors Mildred Robinson and Richard Bonnie of the University of Virginia, contains forty essays, each written by a law professor who discusses the way that his or her life was affected by the Brown decision.

The forty contributors vary considerably by gender, race, and ethnicity.  A majority, but only a majority, grew up in states where legally segregated schools existed at the time of the Brown decision.  Some are old enough to have remembered the day that the decision was handed down; others were born after it was already the law of the land.  But all, to one extent or another, believe that their personal and professional lives have been profoundly shaped by the Brown decision.

I read Law Touched Our Hearts with great interest.

Although I am too young to remember the actual announcing of the Brown decision — it was handed down two weeks before my second birthday — it was clearly a defining event in my life.  In 1956, my family moved from Giles County, Virginia, where I was born, to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.  Two years earlier, after an attempt to integrate the White Sulphur schools in response to Brown, the town and nation witnessed the first post-Brown, anti-integration riot in the United States which led the county school board to cancel the integration experiment after only one week.  In 1956, integration occurred a second time, this time as the result of a federal court order.  My mother started teaching at White Sulphur Elementary that fall, and when I started school there two years later the fate of integrated education seemed anything but certain.  In 1959, we moved back to Virginia where the schools were completely segregated, and I experienced integration a second time in 1964, when Giles County decided to voluntarily close its black schools and incorporate the entire black and white population into a single school system.  (Incredibly, Giles County was the first county in Virginia to do this.)

I was also interested in Law Touched Our Hearts because eight of the contributors are good friends of mine.  I can say, though, without fear of contradiction, that the most moving and most poignant essay in the entire collection is the one written by my Marquette colleague Phoebe Williams.  Phoebe’s essay, titled “Segregation in Memphis,” tells the story of her experiences as an 8-year old school child in segregated Memphis schools when the Brown decision was handed down.  Although the Brown edict was to be adopted with “all deliberate speed,” the “promises of Brown,” as Phoebe puts it “remained unrealized” in Memphis.  There had been no school integration in Memphis when Phoebe graduated from high school in 1963, and there would be none for years to come.  Her first experience with integrated education came when she enrolled at Marquette as an undergraduate.

Phoebe’s essay wonderfully captured the spirit of optimism that arose with the handing down of the Brown decision, as well as the disappointment that accompanied the failure of southern states to live up to its mandates.

I was already familiar with much of Phoebe’s account because of an appearance she made several years ago in a class on the History of the Civil Rights Movement that I was teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences.  I invited Phoebe to come speak to the class about her experiences growing in the era of segregation.  The students in the class were riveted by her presentation, even though most were northerners and had been born more than two decades after the Brown decision.  Many students later told me that Phoebe’s presentation was the highlight of the class.

I strongly recommend Law Touched Our Hearts to anyone interested in the history of civil rights in the United States, but I insist that anyone with any sort of Marquette connection should read Phoebe Williams’ contribution to the collection (pp. 123-134).

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Noted Historian and Milwaukee Native Kenneth Stampp Passes Away

peculiar1For the second time in recent weeks, a major Civil War era historian whose work was enormously important for American legal and constitutional history has passed away.  Kenneth Stampp, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California-Berkeley, died this past Friday at age 96, less than two months after the death of Harvard’s David Herbert Donald.

Stampp’s 1956 work, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South, revolutionized the study of American negro slavery, once and for all dismissing suggestions that the institution was fundamentally benign or that African-Americans quietly acquiesced in their slave status.  No book did more to demolish the moonlight and magnolias view of antebellum southern history.

His 1965 work, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877, destroyed the myth that white Southerners were the primary “victims” of the Reconstruction years.  This work was among the first to link the Reconstruction period to the modern civil rights movement, which was very much underway during the time that Stampp wrote.

Stampp was also the author of numerous other historical works, including And the War Came: The North and the Secession Crisis (1950) and America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink (1990).  Over the course of his long career, he won most of the major awards available to American historians.  He was also instrumental in the training of a generation of Southern and Civil War era historians whose own work built upon the insights of their mentor.  His former students include such historical luminaries as William Freehling, Leon Litwak, James Oakes, Joel Williamson, William Gienapp, John Sproat, Robert Starobin, Robert Abzug, and Reid Mitchell.

What is less well known is that Kenneth Stampp was a native of Milwaukee.  He was born in the Cream City on July 12, 1912, the son of Oscar Stampp, a naprapath (chiropractor), and Eleanor Schmidt Stampp, a homemaker.  While his parents were native-born Americans, his grandparents were all born in Germany or Switzerland, and Stampp grew up in a Protestant neighborhood on the north side of Milwaukee where German was spoken as frequently as English, at least until the onset of U. S. involvement in the First World War.

Stampp attended Washington High School, from which he graduated in 1931 during the depths of the Great Depression.  He began college at Milwaukee State Teachers College (now UWM), but left abruptly in 1933 when one of his professors sought to discourage him from continuing to pursue his goal of becoming a high school history teacher.  (The professor thought that Stampp should pursue a career in elementary education.)

After withdrawing from Milwaukee State, Stampp’s German Methodist father suggested that he enroll in Marquette University instead.  As Stampp later recounted, “My father said, ‘Well, would you like to go to Marquette University?’ I said, ‘I’m not going to that Catholic institution.’ I have to tell you another thing: there was a lot of anti-Catholicism in my family because of their kind of Protestantism. My father had been very anti-Catholic, so I had no trouble saying, “Look, I’m not going to that Catholic college.”

After briefly considering enrolling in Waukesha’s Carroll College, Stampp instead enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from which he received his B.A. (1935), M.A. (1936), and Ph.D. (1942) degrees in history.  His first teaching positions were at the University of Arkansas and the University of Maryland.  He joined the faculty of the University of California in 1946 and remained there until his retirement in 1983, except for stints as a visiting professor at Harvard, Oxford, the University of London, and the University of Munich.

A full transcript of Stampp’s 1998 oral autobiography, which includes the story regarding his boyhood in Milwaukee and his decision not to attend Marquette University, can be found online here.

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