Confronting Racial Injustice

Massachusetts is often heralded as the home of the abolition movement and one of the first states to abolish slavery. Yet the Commonwealth’s economy developed in collaboration with states that claimed people as property. This series explores how enslavement and white supremacy shaped the history of Massachusetts and how they continue to shape its present. From the first program “Slavery, Wealth Creation, and Intergenerational Wealth” to the final event “The Charles Stuart Story: White Lies and Black Lives,” the series asks us all to understand, acknowledge, and confront racial injustice.

Developed by Northeastern Law's Criminal Justice Task Force, Confronting Racial Injustice is a free, five-part series hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society and sponsored by a number of Boston-area organizations.
>> Download the series flyer

Series Calendar

June 9, 2021 | 6:00 - 7:00 PM
The Charles Stuart Story: White Lies and Black Lives
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The Charles Stuart Story: White Lies and Black Lives
Charles Stuart, a white man, murdered his wife and unborn child in Boston in 1989 and falsely blamed the attack on a nonexistent Black man. Believing Stuart’s lie, the police engaged in a massive manhunt that terrorized a Black community in Mission Hill with detention, public strip-searches, and the arrest of two innocent men. As some lawmakers demanded the death penalty, the media perpetuated this false story. The Stuart case exemplifies how the narrative of white supremacy continues to lead to the dehumanization and devaluation of Black lives. Widespread acceptance of white lies over Black lives persists today.

Moderator
Kim McLaurin, Associate Dean, Suffolk University Law School

Speakers
Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Dean, Boston University School of Law
Hon. Leslie Harris (ret.), Suffolk Juvenile Court
Renée Graham, Columnist, The Boston Globe


Recent Panels

May 19, 2021 | 6:00 - 7:00 PM
The War on Drugs in Massachusetts: The Racial Impact of the School Zone Law and Other Mandatory Minimum Sentences
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In the 1980s, Massachusetts embraced the War on Drugs, enacting harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. It took decades to confront the reality that, in addition to being ineffective and costly, mandatory minimums resulted in the pervasive and disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown people. Panelists will discuss this troubling history, recent reforms, and the prospects for implementing drug policies that are effective, fair, and just.

Moderator
Hon. Sydney Hanlon, Massachusetts Appeals Court

Speakers
Massachusetts State Senator William N. Brownsberger, Second Suffolk & Middlesex District
Abrigal Forrester, Executive Director, Center for Teen Empowerment
Rahsaan D. Hall ’98, Director of the Racial Justice Program, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
Deborah A. Ramirez, Professor of Law, Northeastern University School of Law

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April 15, 2021 | 6:00 - 7:00 PM
Boston School Desegregation Through the Rearview Mirror
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In 1972, a group of African American parents sued city and state officials over segregation within the Boston Public Schools. After a trial, a federal court determined that the Boston School Committee had intentionally discriminated on the basis of race by operating a dual school system that extended to school assignments, facilities, and staffing. When officials failed to produce a timely remedy, the court ordered institutional reforms, including re-districting and the re-assignment of students. In this program, panelists will reflect on the lessons to be learned from Boston’s school desegregation experience.

Moderator
Matthew F. Delmont, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of History, Dartmouth College

Speakers
Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University, and Former Dean, Harvard Law School
Becky Shuster, Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Boston Public Schools
Rachel E. Twymon, whose family was profiled in J. Anthony Lukas’ Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Common Ground.

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February 18, 2021 | 6:00 - 7:00 PM
Slavery, Wealth Creation, and Intergenerational Wealth
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From the 17th century to the 21st, enslavement — even when it took place outside of Massachusetts — shaped the province and the state in significant ways. It was and has been central to creating wealth: family fortunes, institutional endowments, and public budgets in the Commonwealth have all benefited from its spoils. This panel discussion featuring academic and public historians explores Massachusetts’ connections to slavery and the trade of enslaved people, the wealth — and the poverty — enslavement created and bequeathed, and how the legacies of enslavement are reflected in injustices that haunt Massachusetts to this day.

Moderator:
Jared Ross Hardesty, Associate Professor of History, Western Washington University

Speakers     
Nicole Maskiell, Assistant Professor of History, University of South Carolina

Elon Cook Lee, Director of Interpretation and Education, National Trust for Historic Preservation

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March 11, 2021 | 6:00 - 7:00 PM
Redlining: From Slavery to $8 in 400 Years
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In 2015, the Boston Federal Reserve found the median net worth for Black families in Boston was $8, in stark contrast to $250,000 for white families. This discrepancy is largely driven by the gap in home ownership. Join community activists and urban planners as they discuss Boston’s history of redlining and discriminatory housing policies, the complicity of the banks and the real estate industry, and the consequent legacy of segregation and racial wealth disparity. We will also identify some specific actions we can take to address the inequities in home ownership.

Moderator
Adrian Walker, Columnist, The Boston Globe

Speakers
Lewis Finfer, Co-Director, Massachusetts Communities Action Network
Stephen Gray, Associate Professor of Urban Design, Harvard Graduate School of Design


The Confronting Racial Injustice panel series is chaired by
Barbara F. Berenson, Lecturer, Harvard Law School; Senior Administrative Attorney, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (ret.)
and
the Hon. Barbara A. Dortch-Okara, Massachusetts Superior Court (ret.), former Chief Justice of the Trial Court.

Sponsored by

Northeastern University School of Law
Massachusetts Historical Society
Anti-Defamation League of New England
Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston
Boston Athenaeum
Boston Bar Association
Boston College Law School
Boston University School of Law
Beyond Conflict
Dorchester Historical Society
Flaschner Judicial Institute
Jamaica Plain Historical Society
King’s Chapel
Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association
Massachusetts Black Women Attorneys
Massachusetts School of Law at Andover
Museum of African American History
New England Law/Boston
Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at Boston College Law School
Revolutionary Spaces
Roxbury Historical Society
Royall House & Slave Quarters
South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston
Suffolk University Law School
The UU Urban Ministry
Trinity Church Boston
Tufts University
University of Massachusetts School of Law
West End Museum
Western New England Law School