Horace Scurry: Our First African-American Law Student

Horace S. Scurry was one of many fascinating individuals who passed through the Milwaukee Law School between the time of its founding in the early 1890’s and its merger with Marquette University in 1908.  He appears to have been the first African-American to join the ranks of that institution’s students.

Details of Scurry’s life are meager.  He was born in 1865 in Delaware, Ohio, and first arrived in Milwaukee in 1882 at age 17.  He attended school in Milwaukee and then returned to Ohio, where he enrolled in Ohio Wesleyan College (which was in his hometown of Delaware).  The college catalog listed him as a Milwaukee resident, and he apparently entered college with the intention of becoming a teacher. In 1900, he was working at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, as the steward of the teachers’ house and, reportedly, as a teacher.

He returned to Milwaukee at some point and enrolled in the Milwaukee Law School.

Although he studied law, he does not appear to have been admitted to the bar.  The Milwaukee Law School was designed to prepare students for admission to the Wisconsin bar and did not award degrees of its own.  However, in 1908, following the merger, Marquette University awarded a law degree to any former student of the Milwaukee Law School who had been admitted to the Wisconsin bar.  Scurry’s name does not appear on the list of degree recipients, although it is possible that he was admitted but did not bother to apply for the Marquette degree.

In any event, Scurry’s future was in neither education nor law, but in religion.  In the early twentieth century (if not sooner), he became an ordained Baptist minister. He was affiliated with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Milwaukee (a black Baptist church) and with the Wisconsin State Baptist Convention.  After his entry into the ranks of the clergy, he retained an interest in politics and public affairs.  The archives of the American Socialist Party contain a letter written to Scurry by Norman Thomas, the party’s perennial presidential candidate.

In 1935, Scurry, aged 70 and retired from the ministry, was awarded a monthly old-age pension of $30 from the Milwaukee county court.  A story in the December 17, 1935, edition of the Milwaukee Journal reported the award of the pension by County Judge John C. Karel and mentioned Scurry’s prior affiliation with the Milwaukee Law School.  Scurry died on June 6, 1943, still affiliated with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

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SAT Scores and Affirmative Action

sunsetIn her majority opinion in the landmark civil rights case Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 342-44 (2003), Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:

Enshrining a permanent justification for racial preferences would offend this fundamental equal protection principle. We see no reason to exempt race-conscious admissions programs from the requirement that all governmental use of race must have a logical end point. . . . From today’s vantage point, one may hope, but not firmly forecast, that over the next generation’s span, progress toward nondiscrimination and genuinely equal opportunity will make it safe to sunset affirmative action.

Although O’Connor and her colleagues upheld the constitutionality of the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program at issue in Grutter, her opinion reflected a belief that affirmative action programs would draw to a close at some future point.

Data released by the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT exam, at the end of August suggests, however, that the end date for affirmative action is probably still a long way off.

Once again, Non-Hispanic whites and Asians scored significantly higher on the SAT than African-Americans and Hispanics, and the pattern of scores provides no evidence that the gap is closing.  Over 1.5 million college-bound seniors took the test, the largest number in history.

The SAT now consists of three sections — writing, critical reading, and mathematics — each of which is scored on a scale that ranges from 200 to 800.  Since April 1995, the targeted median score on each test has been 500 (rather than 450 as it was before).  Consequently, the range of combined scores is 600 to 2400, with an “average” score being 1500.  The actual average for the 2008-09 academic year was 1504, essentially the same as it was the previous year.

For the test as a whole, Asian students scored 1633 compared to 1581 for non-Hispanic whites, with most of the disparity resulting from a significantly higher mathematics score.  Other groups did not do nearly as well.  The scores of Native Americans and Eskimos averaged 1448; Hispanics, 1364; and African-Americans, only 1273.  Males of all races, who counted for only 46.5 percent of test takers, outscored females, 1523 to 1496.

Much of the discrepancy in racial performance is due to socio-economic factors that adversely affect black and Hispanic adolescents.  Low family incomes, single-parent homes, low levels of education in the family, and the lack of role models who have achieved academic success all contribute to poor test performance. For example, students of all races with family incomes of $200,000 or more averaged 1702 on the SAT; those with family incomes of below $20,000 scored 1321.  Students whose parents had at least one graduate degree averaged 1683; those who parents had not finished high school scored only 1281.

With this kind of disparity in SAT scores, only affirmative action programs can guarantee that African-Americans and Hispanics will be proportionally represented at America’s more selective colleges and universities.  Although we may reach Justice O’Connor’s sunset at some point, right now we are clearly still in the middle of the day.

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The Beer Summit-A Restorative Justice Experience?

art.beer.summit.afp.giAs I listened to the political pundits argue about the “beer summit” that occurred at the White House yesterday, I am amazed by the debate as to whether President Barrack Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Lieutenant James Crowley really gave us “a teachable moment.” There is no doubt in mind that they did. The only question is what they and all of us learn from that moment. President Obama appears, perhaps intuitively, to have utilized restorative justice principles when he suggested this meeting. The men came together in a “safe environment” to respectively talk about the harm that was caused by the others, the impact it has had on many people, and how to proceed in a positive way to help heal the harm as each of them saw it. Those are the tenets of restorative justice. People getting together in a safe environment for a difficult conversation on identifying the people who have been harmed (in this case by the others), identifying that harm and how can the “offender(s)” and the community look forward and work to repair that harm.

We certainly could see much of the harm unfold on the news and talk shows. Professor Gates, a highly respected scholar, gets arrested in his own home by a white officer. He (and many others) believes he has been treated unfairly because of his race. The officer, who with his fellow officers, including an African-American, believes he was doing his job because he is investigating a possible home invasion and has a man, in his opinion, who is uncooperative and verbally abusive. And we have a highly respected president, who usually is extremely careful with his words, announce that despite the fact that he does not know all the facts, that the police acted “stupidly.” Then we went on to learn that Lucia Whalen, who called in the suspicious behavior at Dr. Gates’ home, is now receiving death threats and being called racist despite the fact that she never volunteered anything about race to the 911 operator. We can then imagine the harm to the Cambridge police department, the African-American community in the Boston area, the family members of everyone involved and then of course the harm to the thousands and thousands of others who experience the renewed pain of some bad police/community member relations all over this country. We have some political pundits characterizing all police as men and women who routinely engage in racial profiling (never acknowledging that never does an entire profession engage in bad behavior so that the “good cops” are thrown into the same description as the “discriminating cops.”) Those kinds of comments not only demoralize police departments but also devastate family members of law enforcement officers. We have once again publicly displayed acts of racism (a Boston officer writing a letter describing Professor Gates as “banana-eating jungle monkey”). We know that the wounds of racism and profiling in this country are justifiably deep and painful. And we have a president, who is trying to focus on our national health care crisis, in part because of his own words, being embroiled in these events. There is not a question in my mind that this was an opportunity for all of us to watch and learn a better way to move forward other than our continuous name calling.

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