IALL 2018 Recap: Privacy in European Cross-Border Settings

By Meredith Capps

In Privacy in European Cross-Border Settings, Dr. Christina Mariottini spoke of a new understanding of privacy, distinguishing between the traditional notions of privacy, which were territorial and time-limited, versus privacy in an automated and computerized setting, where violations are potentially permanent in nature and information is ubiquitous.  Whereas in the year 2000, 738 million people used the Internet, now 4.2 billion do, creating a complex and layered legal privacy landscape.

Historically, continental Europe, the US, and the UK have embraced different rationales for a right to privacy.  In continental Europe, privacy is considered an expression of dignity and self-determination.  In the US, privacy is considered an expression of liberty and protection from government intrusion (ex. unreasonable searches and searches), and commodified in certain instances (ex. a right to publicity).  Conversely, in the UK there was until recently no general tort for violation of privacy.  Privacy is generally defined in accordance with the notion of an individual’s space, whereas data protection refers to the specific area of the law that regulates the “processing of data associated with an identifiable individual.”  Defamation and the right to reputation are defined as allegations or imputations, characterized by a certain degree of falsehood, of a fact made public that disparages the reputation.  The right to freedom of expression must be balanced against the right of privacy in these conceptions.

Dr. Mariottini went on to describe a number of sources of regulation of privacy in the EU:

  • Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states: “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) construes article to include data protection.
  • The Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (Convention 108) of 1981 (modernized in 2018), the first binding legal instrument adopted in the EU in the field of data protection.
  • The Charter on Fundamental Rights of the EU, Articles 7 and 8, recognizing respect for private life and protection of personal data as closely related, but separate fundamental rights. (In addition, Article 53 clarifies that these provisions set a minimum standard.)
  • And, most recently, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the aim of which is to protect all EU citizens from privacy and data breaches in today’s data-driven world.

GDPRIn the GDPR, “personal data” is “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’)…in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person.”  “Processing” refers to “any operation or set of operations which is performed on personal data or on sets of personal data, whether or not by automated means…”

The GDPR includes several notable provisions.  Whereas prior privacy regulations were ambiguous with respect to territorial scope, Article 3 expands territorial scope to include personal data processed outside the EU.  Data subjects can easily withdraw consent to use of their data, and data controllers must notify data subjects of breach within 72 hours of knowledge of that breach.  Data subjects also retain a right to access their personal data and a right to have their data erased and no longer disseminated—the “right to be forgotten.” The law enforcement directive provides rules governing use of personal data by law enforcement authorities

Dr. Mariottini concluded by discussing the outlook on the current proposals for new legislation.  E-evidence regulations governing access to and preservation of electronic data held by companies is one area of concern, and Mariottini discussed debates regarding the CLOUD Act in the US, and improving existing mutual legal assistance agreement.  In response to questions from the group, Mariottini noted that despite criticism, the GDPR is serving as a model, with Brazil about to adopt similar legislation, and even China considering the issue.  She noted that though social media platforms such as Facebook were quick to draft policies purporting to align with GDPR, most of these policies do not, in fact, comply with EU law.

IALL 2018 Preconference Workshop on Library Innovation & Robot Usage

By Mike McArthur

TORY and Presenters

TORY, Ms. Juja Chakarova, and Dr. Johannes Travert at the IALL Preconference Workshop on Library Innovation & Robot Usage.

The 2018 IALL Annual Course kicked-off its pre-conference workshop at the Max Planck Institute for Procedural Law (MPI) in Luxembourg on Sept. 30th. The presenters included Ms. Juja Chakarova, the Head of the Library at MPI, robot designer Dr. Johannes Trabert of MetraLabs GmbH, and TORY, the inventory control robot previously used at the MPI library.

To frame the presentation, Ms. Chakarova began by explaining that the discussion would be limited to innovations that were relevant to libraries, specifically those dealing with text, letters, and languages while largely excluding those related to media, art, and other fields. She then continued by describing some of the tools that have impacted libraries throughout Europe, from the development of the typewriter in the late 1800s, to the 1960s and the introduction of automation provided by the PDP-11 line of “mini-computers.” Pointing to the Apollo 11 experiments, she contrasted the capacities of computing at the time where NASA computers ran at 40 kHz and utilized 64 kB of memory. A typical laptop today is hundreds of times more powerful, running at 2.6 Ghz and using multiple GB of memory. It isn’t a stretch to say that the entire computing power of the Apollo mission is eclipsed by a simple Google search.

After some more descriptions of technological advancement related to Moore’s Law and the disruptive influence brought by “increasingly capable machines” in Richard Susskind’s book “The Future of Professions,” Ms. Chakarova finished by bringing it back to innovation as it relates to librarians. Mentioning how card catalogs and loan cards once revolutionized the user experience, she shared that her library had directly tackled their inventory issues through the use of an innovative robot.

Dr. Trabert stepped forward to explain. Having previously worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, he had returned to Germany to work for a company that develops mobile service robots, mostly to do simple tasks such as to guide customers to products in a store. His company worked with the MPI library to design a robot that would automate their inventory control functions using RFID, which has replaced the need for visual, camera-based functions. The goal, he said, was to free the librarians for work they were more suited for, especially interaction with patrons.

The robot that MPI had used for setting up its inventory control is named TORY. Using a set of programs, maps, and sensors, TORY is capable of autonomous movement around the library even when patrons are present, which can sometimes be tricky as standard safety features must be robust enough to let it operate around untrained people. Dr. Trabert had graciously brought TORY back to the library for a live demonstration. A table with numerous books had been set up on a card table at the front of the room and TORY quickly rounded the table while a list of titles and a tile count streamed onto the projector screen.

At this point the audience peppered the presenters with questions:

  • Does it work with compact shelving? Answer: It is surprisingly mobile, but can’t turn the crank for you…)
  • What do students do to TORY? Answer: We have a very responsible patron base so no hats, stickers, or other pranks.
  • How much do these cost? Answer: This model is about 30,000 euros and there is no leasing model yet.
  • What about a warranty? Answer: There are of course many maintenance packages.
  • What happens if there is an error? Answer: Robots like TORY have an emergency signal they send out when their sensors are blocked.

We also discovered that to process the 35,000 volumes in the collection, a few students were hired to place RFID strips in each book, which was completed over the course of two months.

Ms. Chakarova finished up by explaining that in countries like Japan where the population is more inclined to trust robots, they are being used in a wide variety of capacities. And while there is a general fear that automation will displace our jobs, an informal survey of the audience found that almost 90% were not afraid. This wrapped-up the pre-conference workshop.

IALL 2018 Recap: What is the European Union, a Union of Citizens and States, a New Constitutional Topos?

By Caitlin Hunter

Eurocracy (4).JPGIn What is the European Union, a Union of Citizens and States, a New Constitutional Topos?, Peace Palace Law Library director Jeroen Vervliet kicked off the day with a lively question and answer session with Jaap Hoeksma about Hoeksma’s EU-themed board game, Eurocracy. Hoeksma was inspired to create the board game after he realized that, although he was a law professor, he could not satisfactorily explain what the EU was to his students. EU scholars fought fiercely over two conceptions of the EU. The inter-governmentalists conceived of the EU as an international organization formed by multiple states that fully retained their own sovereignty. In contrast, the federalists saw an ultimate end game in which the EU would become a single federated state. Because EU scholars themselves disagreed over what the EU was, Hoeksma could not clearly explain it to his students.

Hoeksma decided to take a piece of advice from Nietzsche: when you have a problem you can’t solve, turn it into a game! In the resulting Eurocracy board game, players take on the role of citizens of the EU fighting to win support for their political party. The board game served as a valuable tool for introducing students to the EU and also raised a deeper philosophical question: Why is it so complex for scholars to explain the EU, but so intuitive for students to understand it in the context of the game? The answer is a key shift in perspective. The game requires students to take on the perspective of an EU citizen. In contrast, scholars are trapped in a Westphalian model, which views states as the center of all international relations. This model is not functional for the EU, which is simultaneously a union both of states and of individual citizens.

Eurocracy 3.JPG

The failure to understand the EU as a union of citizens as well as of states has dramatic consequences for its ability to preserve democracy and defend its existence. In the 1980s, the union between EU states grew closer, while individual citizens were kept at bay. Citizens felt a strong and justified fear that they were trading democracy for bureaucracy. 1992’s Maastricht Treaty took a step in the right direction by formally recognizing individuals within the EU as citizens of both the EU and of their member states, entitled to vote and exercise their democratic rights as part of both systems. However, many politicians show little understanding of and commitment to the new Maastrichtian alternative to the traditional Westphalian model.

Critics refer to the EU as an “unidentified political object” or even “the Fourth Reich” and complain that it suffers from a democratic deficit. (Of course, as an audience member noted and Hoeksma agreed, the Westphalian model has many democratic deficits, too! They just don’t get as much press.) To preserve the EU in the face of its current crises, its supporters must continue to press for the rights of individual citizens within the EU, such as the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty. As long as scholars remain stuck in a false dichotomy between federation and inter-governmentalism, the EU’s supporters cannot explain what the EU is about and preserve its democratic ideals.

Second Call for Bloggers for IALL 2018

luxembourgThe 37th Annual Course of the International Association of Law Libraries is taking place from September 30, 2018 to October 3, 2018 in Luxembourg.  We’re looking for volunteers to recap one or more sessions for us.  Blog posts are short–between 400 and 700 words–and easy to do, and they’re a great way to contribute to the SIS.  Recapping a session is a great way to share your knowledge with those who are unable to attend.

We’re happy to have recaps for any session you’re planning on attending, but think our readers would be particularly interested in the following if you’re looking for ideas of which programs to recap:

Sunday, September 30th:

  • Pre-Conference Workshop, “Workshop on Library Innovation & Robot Usage

Monday, October 1st:

  • 9:30-11:00:  Introduction to the Legal System of Luxembourg and its History

Tuesday, October 2nd:

  • 9:30-11:00:  The Max Planck Institute Luxembourg: 50th Anniversary of EU Procedural Law
  • 11:30-1:00:  Privacy in European Cross-Border Settings
  • 11:30-1:00:  Traditional Cultural Expressions and International Intellectual Property Law
  • 2:15-4:30:  EiPro-Max Planck Encyclopedia of International Procedural Law

Wednesday, October 3rd:

  • 11:45-12:30:  Robot Law
  • 16:35-17:25:  Lecture of a Member of the Court of Justice of the European Union

Thanks to our three volunteers so far–Charles Bjork, Caitlin Hunter, and Jessica Pierucci –for their willing to report back on the conference!

If you’re attending IALL and are interested in blogging for DipLawMatic Dialogues, please contact Alyson Drake at alyson.drake@ttu.edu with the name(s) of the session(s) you’d like to recap.  Thank you in advance!

Call for Bloggers: IALL 2018

luxembourgThe 37th Annual Course of the International Association of Law Libraries is taking place from September 30, 2018 to October 3, 2018 in Luxembourg.

We’re looking for volunteers to recap one or more sessions for us.  Blog posts are short, between 400 and 700 ways, and easy to do–and are a great way to contribute to the SIS. Recapping a session is a great way to share your knowledge with those who are unable to attend.

We’re happy to have recaps for any session you’re already planning on attending, but think our readers would be particularly interested in the following if you’re looking for ideas of which programs to recap:

Sunday, September 30th:

  • Pre-Conference Workshop, “Workshop on Library Innovation & Robot Usage

Monday, October 1st:

  • 9:30-11:00:  Introduction to the Legal System of Luxembourg and its History
  • 9:30-11:00:  Special Features of Luxembourg Law, such as its Sources
  • 2:15-4:30:  The New Luxembourg Space Resources Act and International Law

Tuesday, October 2nd:

  • 9:30-11:00:  The Max Planck Institute Luxembourg: 50th Anniversary of EU Procedural Law
  • 11:30-1:00:  Privacy in European Cross-Border Settinsg
  • 11:30-1:00:  Traditional Cultural Expressions and International Intellectual Property Law
  • 2:15-4:30:  EiPro-Max Planck Encyclopeida of International Procedural Law

Wednesday, October 3rd:

  • 9:45-11:15:  What is the European Union, a Union of Citizens and States, a New Constitutional Topos?
  • 11:45-12:30:  Robot Law
  • 16:35-17:25:  Lecture of a Member of the Court of Justice of the European Union

We’d also be interested in a travelogue or posts on the visits to some of the tours included as part of the conference if anyone is interested.

If you’re attending and interested in blogging for us, please contact Alyson Drake at alyson.drake@ttu.edu with the name(s) of the session(s) you’d like to recap.  Thank you in advance!

New FCIL Librarian Series: Conferencing and Reading…and Researching, Of Course

By Jessica Pierucci

This is the second in a series of posts documenting my first year as a foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL) librarian. I started in this newly-created role at the UCI Law Library in July 2017. The aim of this series is to document my year in the hope of inspiring aspiring FCIL librarians to join the field (and hopefully not scaring them away!) by discussing one librarian’s experience entering the field.

Happy New Year! To start off 2018, this post will cover three developments during the last few months of 2017: the IALL Annual Course, the start of my self-styled “course” in FCIL research, and a chance to truly test my skills.

IALL Annual Course


Sculpture outside the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Jessica Pierucci.

Although this is an AALL blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t dedicate part of this post to singing the praises of the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL) Annual Course in Atlanta, Georgia, which I attended right after writing my first post in this series.

This conference was a fantastic experience all around. The truly thought-provoking speakers, museum and library tours, and chances to socialize and network with librarians from around the world were a wonderful blend of professional development opportunities.

Given that this year’s conference was in the United States, the programming was focused on U.S. law and history. This was a fascinating opportunity to think about the international perspective on U.S. law and discuss topics of domestic and international interest, particularly how the U.S. is viewed globally and to what degree the U.S is or is not promoting civil and human rights at home and abroad. I hope to attend future IALL conferences abroad to learn about the host countries’ and regions’ legal systems directly from their local practitioners and researchers. I would highly recommend this conference to any new FCIL librarian.


The setting for the IALL Annual Dinner at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Note the dinosaurs!  Photo courtesy of Jessica Pierucci.

Becoming a self-taught FCIL librarian

I returned from this conference inspired by the energy of my new colleagues and excited to spend more time in my self-study as to how to be an FCIL librarian from the ground up. From my background reading,[1] I understand that FCIL librarians made a concerted push in the 1990s to train the next generation of FCIL librarians through a series of institutes and resulting publications.[2] Since then, there has been scattered attempts to create something similar, but, as far as I am aware, nothing yet has fully come to fruition.[3] (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!)

The structured materials from the 1990s are certainly a helpful primer on the work of an FCIL librarian, but don’t reflect the ever-ubiquitous use of the internet and other information technology in legal research. To fill this gap, I am developing my own self-styled “course” in FCIL librarianship, which augments earlier works with recent materials, and am making my way through this course between my other responsibilities at the library.

The course has primarily taken the form of reading a bunch of articles,[4] select books, and taking time to practice what I’m learning along the way. I’ve found two books, in particular, to be invaluable resources: International and Foreign Legal Research: A Coursebook and Public International Law in a Nutshell. I have a number of other books on deck for my studies in 2018, including International Legal Research in a Nutshell and The IALL International Handbook of Legal Information Management. I’m also looking forward to a deeper dive into the major international law treatises on my Jessup Guide.

If you have any recommendations for other foundational readings, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or feel free to reach out to me directly. I plan to share a list of resources for new FCIL librarians as part of my final post in this series.

Testing my skills

While finalizing this post, I was contacted for some in-depth legislative history research for multiple laws of a Spanish-speaking country. I was delighted to have the chance to really put my training to the test. I turned to research guides on the country’s legal system, dusted off my Spanish language skills, and was ultimately able to find resources addressing each of the questions asked. I had so much fun testing myself with this project and learning a lot about the history of one country’s laws in the process. I can’t wait to continue my self-styled FCIL course and I look forward to all the new research questions I’ll encounter in 2018!

[1] The Education Committee of the AALL FCIL-SIS compiled a helpful list of background reading. Education Committee, Articles Considering a Career in FCIL Law Librarianship, AALL, https://www.aallnet.org/sections/fcil/cmtesgroups/Education (last visited Dec. 20, 2017).

[2] See, e.g., Introducing…Lyonette Louis-Jacques as the October 2015 FCIL Librarian of the Month, DipILawMatic Dialogues (Oct. 2, 2015), https://fcilsis.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/introducing-lyonette-louis-jacques-as-the-october-2015-fcil-librarian-of-the-month/; Neel Kant Agrawal. Training in FCIL Librarianship for Tomorrow, 105 Law Libr. J. 199, 207 (2013), http://www.aallnet.org/mm/Publications/llj/LLJ-Archives/Vol-105/no-2/2013-9.pdf.aspx.

[3] Mary Rumsey, Foreign and International Law Librarianship, 25 Legal Reference Services Q., no. 2/3, 2006, at 73, 83, https://doi.org/10.1300/J113v25n02_03.

[4] See, e.g., Neel Kant Agrawal. Training in FCIL Librarianship for Tomorrow, 105 Law Libr. J. 199, 226-29 (2013), http://www.aallnet.org/mm/Publications/llj/LLJ-Archives/Vol-105/no-2/2013-9.pdf.aspx.

IALL 2017 Recap: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: Civil Rights Struggles in the American South

By Kim Nayyer


Professor Joseph Crespino, Jimmy Carter Professor of 20th Century American Political History and South History Since Reconstruction, Emory University. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

The conference theme, Civil Rights, Humans Rights, and Other Critical Issues in U.S. Law, was delivered with insight in this first academic session.  The speaker, Joseph Crespino, PhD, Jimmy Carter Professor of 20th Century American Political History and Southern History Since Reconstruction, Department of History, Emory University, brought retrospective and historical context to our understanding of present and historical race relations in the United States.

For those of us from outside the U.S., Professor Crespino helpfully contextualized his talk with a specific and clear explanation of the Jim Crow era, presenting dates, events, and visual illustrations.[1] Whereas I’d read and seen reference to the terms “Jim Crow” and “Reconstruction,” I, as a non-American, didn’t fully understand the details and historical context. Briefly, Reconstruction is the era that began just post-US Civil War. The Civil War itself was a rebellion by southern states (the Confederacy) against the Union and centered on the issue of slavery. Stated simply, the victory of the Union resulted in the emancipation of slaves and the period known as the Reconstruction Era.


Professor Crespino gives his talk on the rise and fall of Jim Crow at IALL 2017 in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

Professor Crespino based his session on a course he teaches at Emory University, and he did an admirable job condensing “some of the highlights, some of the low lights” of his course into less than an hour. The session presented a substantial amount of content, and most of his time was dedicated to explaining the rise of the Jim Crow era despite Reconstruction. Professor Crespino concluded with discussion of markers of the fall of the Jim Crow regime. From my perspective, the session successfully elucidated this history and its present impact for international attendees while—based on my discussions with American colleagues—remaining stimulating and thought-provoking to American law librarians.

Professor Crespino outlined the history and meaning of Jim Crow, explaining that the term refers to legalized system of subjugation and disfranchisement, which followed by several decades the emancipation of freed people after the Civil War. Emancipation began with the 1865 passage of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution. The Reconstruction Era continued with the 14th Amendment of 1868, which granted civil rights and some broad citizenship rights to former slaves, and the 15th Amendment of 1870, which gave black men the right to vote.


Slide from Prof. Crespino’s presentation. Photo courtesy of Kim Nayyer, October 23, 2017.

We learned that the term “Jim Crow” came from a recurring character in racially degrading minstrel shows, in which white actors wore blackface in mocking and dehumanizing portrayals of comical slave characters. Those minstrel shows began in the years before the Civil War, the 1820s and 1830s, in the north as well as in the south. Professor Crespino noted that historians are unclear on why or how this Jim Crow character name came to refer to the segregationist system of laws, in the late nineteenth century.

Professor Crespino devoted much time to sharing his thinking on a question that had puzzled historians even into the 20th century: why it was that Jim Crow system of laws didn’t appear on the books until around the 1890s—after the end of Reconstruction in 1876. He offered several hypotheses rooted in historical context. First, the Jim Crow laws may have reflected folk practices that existed but were not codified during the period between Reconstruction and the beginning of the regime, wherein blacks and whites self-segregated. Some specific laws of the Jim Crow regime in the south created segregated public spaces and disfranchised black Americans and some poorer whites. This is even though in the 1870s and into the 1880s, blacks were in fact participating in public life in states of the former Confederacy.

Another theory about why the Jim Crow laws began to be enacted well after Emancipation and Reconstruction reflected the reality of post-slavery era blacks. Around the 1890s to the turn of the 20th century, there was a discourse of concern among white southerners about what Professor Crespino said was described as the “new Negro,” African Americans who were not born into or socialized within slavery or white supremacy. He described how the myth of the “loyal slave” worked hand in hand with the rise of Jim Crow, and he noted this trope was depicted in 20th century films such as Gone With the Wind.

Another factor that may have contributed to the rise of Jim Crow laws was a growing racist and pseudo-scientific narrative of characterizations of black people. He quoted from a newspaper of the era which demonstrated the racist discourse used to justify subjugation of blacks despite Emancipation. He observed this was reflected in another film heavily criticized for its false and racist depictions of black men, Birth of a Nation.


Photo courtesy of Avery Le, October 23, 2017.

By the 1890s, those false and racist characterizations of black men had fed the crime of lynching, then perpetrated by mobs of whites attacking black men. Lynching refers to extralegal or mob violence. Professor Crespino explained that, until the1880s, lynching was a frontier America phenomenon whose victims were mostly white, and where law enforcement was insufficiently developed.

A final theory historians offer to explain the rise of Jim Crow laws is the serious economic unrest of the time, which gave rise to a third party movement called the Populist party. Destabilizing southern politics for a time, the Populist movement rose mostly among rural farmers who felt disempowered by the economic forces that were the reality of their daily lives. Thomas Watson, a leader of this movement, talked about the common economic interests of blacks and whites, but did not propose or advocate integration.

To Professor Crespino, the most convincing reason Jim Crow laws appeared so long after Reconstruction is the view that segregation laws were a product of modernity or the growing urbanization of the south in the twentieth century. New public spaces were arising—for example, railroad cars— which didn’t have a history of “racial etiquette” or regulation. This opened the door to the “separate but equal” ruling in Plessy v Ferguson, in which the majority denied the right of Mr. Plessy to sit in a railroad car of his choosing. Professor Crespino reminded us that, at the time, this separate but equal outlook was actually considered to be a necessary tool of regulation or government reform, but in retrospect clearly made subordinate and inferior allocations for black people. When we look at the words of the majority’s reasoning now, their arrogance is blatant. The dissent, by Justice John Marshall Harlan, was consistent with his approach to those segregation decisions, which earned him the nickname “The Great Dissenter.”

Professor Crespino explained three kinds of consolidation in the Jim Crow regime. In addition to legal consolidation, seen in cases like Plessy, a political consolidation was seen in the shifts in the Republican party. Until then, the Republican party had been framed as the party of Lincoln, of emancipation, of equality. The Lodge Bill of 1890 was a last Republican effort to empower the federal government to enforce the voting rights of blacks to vote. It failed in Congress because southern Democrats allied with some Republicans to prevent its passage.

Finally, a cultural consolidation, in movies and books for example, took hold by the turn of the 20th century. Professor Crespino referred again to the heavily criticized film, Birth of a Nation and the book it was based on, which actually celebrated the Ku Klux Klan. He described the rise of a new interpretation of Reconstruction. Instead of seeing the movement toward civil rights of former slaves, some people justified their later aims by retrospectively re-characterizing Reconstruction as a tragic era (which Professor Crespino notes was the title of a book popular at the time).

Professor Crespino concluded his talk by pointing to three markers of the fall of Jim Crow. He referred to the nineteen-teens as being the period of the seeds of the dismantling, though it coincided with some of the cultural retrenchment he just described. Even as The Birth of a Nation was screening, political developments began to undermine the Jim Crow era.

The first marker was the beginning of the migration of African Americans out of the south. At 1910, 90% of African Americans lived in the southern states. Only 50 years later, half as many African Americans lived outside the south as in those states, with a population shift from the rural south to the urban north. Because blacks could vote in those northern districts, the US began to see African American members of Congress in the late 1920s and1930s, which led to a big change in the political and government discourse from that of the 1890s. In 1928, Oscar De Priest, the first African-American Congressman, was elected, representing a Chicago district.

The second marker was the New Deal, the programs of the Franklin Roosevelt administration, carried out through initiatives pursued by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She engaged in social efforts and symbolic actions to advance the civil rights and societal participation of African Americans.

The third marker toward dismantling of the Jim Crow era noted was World War II. African Americans served and became empowered by their service to advance deserved civil rights. These were accompanied with new Supreme Court decisions, such as Smith v Allwright (1944), which disallowed discriminatory voting practices, and Brown v Board of Education (1954), which declared segregated public schools to be unconstitutional.

I found this talk remarkably timely and illuminating. One of the most profound impacts of Professor Crespino’s presentation is the sense that much of this history also rings sadly and even frighteningly familiar; it echoes in some of the uglier rhetoric of recent months. We see arguments about the present plight of relatively poor and economically dispossessed Americans giving rise to nationalist or racist populism, for example. To me, though, Professor Crespino’s presentation recalled quite precisely the arguments of Ta-Nenisi Coates in his book, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. Mr. Coates likens the years of the Obama administration, in a way, to the period of Reconstruction. In fact, though President Obama was in office for eight years, his title refers to the 1875 words of South Carolina Congressman Thomas Miller, in reference to Reconstruction and its civil and social equality measures (Coates at xiii).

Coates even, I think, alludes to the later tragic reinterpretations of that era by those who would not want to see a black person as president. These writings echo Professor Crespino’s description of the “threat” of the “New Negro” that gave rise to the Jim Crow regime, likening this to racial tensions and perhaps overt anti-black discourse in the years since the first Obama administration. “Friends began to darkly recall the ghosts of post-Reconstruction. The election of Donald Trump confirmed everything I knew of my country and none of what I could accept. The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history” (Coates at 336).

[1] I understand from a conversation with Professor Crespino that his session was recorded. It a recording was made and will be publicly available, I’ll update this post with a link.