Leonard M. Baynes – Professor of Law and Director of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development, St. John’s University School of Law
2 Colum. J. Race & L. Spec. Feat. 1
In this tribute to Derrick Bell’s legacy, Professor Baynes focuses on several passages from Faces at the Bottom of the Well that relate to denials of slave history, the economic value of African Americans to the American hierarchy, and optimism in the face of despair. He connects these passages to his scholarship about race, color, national origin, and racial and economic inequality. Much of African American optimism is attributable to the symbolism of having an African American president and First Lady and two people of color on the U.S. Supreme Court. The last remaining barriers to dreams and aspirations of success have been removed despite the persistence of inequality. Baynes concludes that although we remain optimistic, we must not remain silent in the face of continuing racial and economic barriers.
Professor Baynes teaches Business Organizations, Communications Law, Perspectives on Justice, and Race and the Law. He received his B.S. from New York University where he was a member of Omicron Delta Epsilon, the international economic honors society, and his J.D. and M.B.A. from Columbia University, where he was associate editor of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. Immediately after law school, Professor Baynes served as a law clerk to the Honorable Clifford Scott Green of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. From 1997 to 2001, Professor Baynes was hired by then-FCC Chairman William E. Kennard to serve as a Scholar-in-Residence at the Federal Communications Commission. In 2012, Professor Baynes was named one of the 100 most influential black lawyers in the United States by the blog On Being A Black Lawyer.
This paper received a response, posted to the former CJRL website:
I found Flags, the piece from the Howard Law Journal, particularly fascinating. I was born and raised in Mississippi and taught in the Mississippi Delta with Teach For America before law school. As you probably know, Mississippi is the only state in the Union that still includes the Confederate battle emblem on its current state flag. Most black Mississippians derisively refer to it as “the Stars and Bars.” When I turned 18, my first time voting included a referendum on changing Mississippi’s state flag to remove the Confederate emblem. The initiative failed by about 65% against and 35% in favor – mirroring almost exactly the percentages of whites (64%) and blacks (36%) in the state’s population. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
When I was a teacher, I taught kindergarten. One of the required objectives involved a unit on Mississippi symbols, and that, of course, included the state flag. One of my best experiences teaching all three years was a conversation with my students about how the flag came to be and what it stood for. The Delta is one of the few regions of the country with a black majority, and the public schools have essentially entirely resegregated. My classes were 100% black all three years, even though the town was 70% black. After our discussion, the children realized that keeping that flag meant that some people still believed that black people were not the same as them and that white people should run everything and that we needed a new flag. So, they drew what they thought would be a better flag and explained why. My students developed some of the most imaginative and colorful expressions of new flags, and cogent explanations – as thinkers, they were at their best. That exercise was my own small moment as a teacher where I connected with Prof. Bell’s commitment to challenging orthodoxy with my students, and teaching free thinking and resistance.
Anonymous May 4, 2012
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