During Black History Month, a Harvard professor spoke about race under Obama.
Race in many cases can trump class, Charles Ogletree, a Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard University, said Thursday, Feb. 23, during a lecture at Beasley School of Law.
Ogletree was the honored speaker at the 2012 Herbert Myers Memorial Lecture – an annual lecture series, which began in 1991 by Herbert Myers, a distinguished member of the law school faculty.
On top of writing several books, Ogletree has served as the senior advisor of President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and was named one of the 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America by “The National Law Journal.” After graduating from Harvard Law School, Ogletree’s career has focused on fighting for equal rights for all citizens.
In his lecture titled “The Conundrum of Race in the Age of Obama,” Ogletree offered his perspective on the progress the nation has made in terms of racial injustice.
“I’m on a mission to embrace what [Martin Luther King, Jr.] told us,” Ogletree said. “King has the dream and we have to come up with the plan.”
Ogletree said he does not believe the nation has made progress in a linear fashion, but rather the racial progress was made in an ebb-and-flow manner. As examples of the progress, Ogletree discussed leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Thurgood Marshall and Oliver Hill.
“They opened up doors to which they couldn’t go through,” Olgetree said. “You are here because someone created the opportunity. We may be the next generation, but someone had to create this opportunity. We have to thank the old generation for what they’ve done.”
Second-year law student Joel Clymer, who was amongst the crowd of approximately 100 people said he admired how Ogletree was able to speak so candidly.
“I really do appreciate how Professor Ogletree is not only able to give really good commentary on everything about race in America, especially from new perspectives, but also solutions on how we can actually move forward and advance in contemporary society,” Clymer said.
On top of speaking about the progress many African-American leaders made, Ogletree also discussed several setbacks those same leaders faced.
“In 1983, Thurgood Marshall was on the losing side. He was seeing all of the progress he made in his work being destroyed by the change in the court,” Ogletree said. “There are people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood who died of a broken heart.”
In a speech that honored both Herbert Myer and celebrated Black History Month, Ogletree spoke with great detail about the major events that have affected the African-American race and the true ramifications of those events.
“I also think it is the level of honesty when speaking about things like this because I feel like a lot of the time people are politically sensitive, so they don’t actually acknowledge the actual truth of what is going on,” said first-year law student Yvelisse Pelotte. “I feel that he was able to acknowledge what was going on and provide constructive solutions.”
Amidst the plethora of jokes and anecdotes about Obama, students and attendees said they were still able to see a strong correlation between what they are learning in the classroom and the topics Ogletree spoke on.
“In terms of what I’m learning in class and what Ogletree is talking about is emphasizing the idea that race is a very key factor in how policy is shaped, how our laws are written and how people relate to each other more so than people would maybe want to give credit to,” Clymer said.
Ogletree’s most recent book, “The Presumption of Guilt: The arrest of Henry Louis Gates and race, class and crime in America,” discusses in further depth the racial topics he touched upon in the lecture.
Ogletree is planning on releasing a new book following the 2012 presidential election that focuses on Obama.
Laura Detter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.