Earlier this month, Professor Paula Johnson participated in two symposia on matters of race and law in honor of Juneteenth. The first event was the Franklin H. Williams Commission’s Race and Law Symposium. The full-day event took place on June 16th and centered on illuminating modern systemic racism’s roots in slavery and legally codified racial discrimination, including two panel discussions with leading legal academics, practitioners, and historians.
Johnson moderated the panel, synthesizing multiple complex legal perspectives into an informative and thought-provoking session.
Later that day, Johnson served as the keynote speaker for the Juneteenth commemoration for the Capital District Black and Hispanic Bar Association and the Montgomery County Bar Association.
In a talk entitled Claiming Freedom: Triumphs and Travails of Emancipation Lawsuits, Johnson examined the efforts of enslaved and formerly enslaved persons of African descent to secure their freedom and legal rights through the court system. Johnson focused her discussion on notable efforts such as Sojourner Truth’s successful New York State lawsuit in 1828, to free her son, Peter, who had been illegally sold in Alabama. This litigation made Truth the first Black woman to successfully sue a White man for a family member’s freedom.
The discussion also focused on the triumphs and challenges of seeking freedom and other legal rights through the court system during Antebellum and Postbellum periods. Examination of these cases aims to compare the relationships between past and present demands for liberation and equality as a multifaceted and constant struggle, which can lead toward a free and informed future.