Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Virginia Law

How might we see Dr. King’s legacy in the law school?  In many ways.  In his article, “Why Law Schools Should Celebrate the Contribution of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Andrew Haines uses Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham City Jail to demonstrate his influence on American legal education. Haines points out that Dr. King understood that American law embraced more than just “legislative enactments, judicial decisions, and societal customs,” and instead “envelops and permeates every aspect of human activity.” Dr. King’s focus on the inseparability of sacred and secular law “makes law schools aware that they must address larger social and economic questions when analyzing the fabric of American laws.”  This broader examination of the law can be seen in courses currently taught at the law school such as Citizenship and Group IdentityIssues in Poverty LawLaw and Public Service, and the many Seminars in Ethical Values.

In an address at Duquesne University in 2008, Dr. King’s nephew Isaac Farris reminds us that at the behest of Coretta Scott King, the federal government established Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national day of community service.  Farris quotes from one of Dr. King’s last sermons when Dr. King explained how he imagined his own memorial service: “I’d like somebody to mention on that day, Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others… I want you to say on that day, that I did try in my life… to love and serve humanity.” This legacy of community service is of course alive and well at Virginia Law, as students now begin their time at the law school with a public service dayvolunteer their time as first-year small sections on behalf of charities, log thousands of pro bono hours, and dedicate their time after graduation to community work.

Dr. King is not known for direct involvement in the fight for integrated education, yet his influence on legal education at the University of Virginia is apparent. Martha Minow points out that his commitment to integration set a higher standard than simply legal desegregation: a “vision of a ‘beloved community’: a completely integrated society. . . whose members continually ensure the rights of each person and advance the capacity of individuals and the collectivity to recognize human dignity and interdependence.” This philosophical legacy is seen in the transformation of Virginia Law from a school that once was segregated to the diverse, welcoming community we have today–a better reflection of the beloved community ideal that Dr. King envisioned. 

– Ben Doherty 


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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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