The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon

Search Results

Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Dorothy Roberts

Law Professor Dorothy E. Roberts was born in 1956. In 1977, she graduated from Yale College, magna cum laude, where she was also elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Three years later, in 1980, Roberts graduated from Harvard Law School with her J.D., and for the next year she served as a law clerk for Hon. Constance Baker Motley in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. After her admission to the New York State Bar in 1981, Roberts worked as an associate in the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison until 1988.

From 1998 to 1994, Roberts was an Associate Professor of Law at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark, and from 1994 to 1998, she was a Professor of Law. While there, she served as the Faculty Graduation Speaker in both 1992 and 1996; visiting Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1994; fellow at the Harvard University Program in Ethics and the Professions from 1994 to 1995; and as visiting professor at Northwestern University School of Law in 1997. In 1998, she joined the faculty of Northwestern School of Law with a joint appointment as a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research; in 2002, she was named the Kirkland & Ellis Professor at the Northwestern University School of Law. While at Northwestern, Roberts served as visiting professor at Stanford Law School in 1998; as a Fulbright Fellow at the Centre for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad & Tobago from 2002 to 2003; and as the Bacon-Kilkenny Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Fordham University School of Law in 2006.

Recipient of the 1998 Radcliffe Graduate Society Medal and the 1999 Freedom of Choice Award from the Chicago Abortion Fund, Roberts published her first book, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, in 1997. The book earned her a 1998 Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America. In 2001, she published her second book, Shattered Bonds: The Color Of Child Welfare, which received research awards from the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community and the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. Recipient of the 2007 Leadership Award from the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers, in 2009 Roberts earned the Family Defender Award from the Family Defense Center and the YWomen Leadership Award from the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

Roberts was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 27, 2010.

Accession Number

A2010.104

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/27/2010

Last Name

Roberts

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Occupation
Schools

Harvard Law School

Yale University

Evanston Township High School

Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School

Cairo American College

First Name

Dorothy

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

ROB22

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

I Can Do All Things Through Christ That Strengthens Me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Pennsylvania

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/8/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Philadelphia

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Grilled Haddock

Short Description

Law professor Dorothy Roberts (1956 - ) was the Kirkland & Ellis Professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and the author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty.

Employment

Northwestern University Law School

Rutgers University School of Law-Newark

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Fordham University School of Law

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
0,0:9850,72:10378,79:11170,89:17242,255:17682,261:19706,288:20322,297:20850,304:26042,388:26394,393:27802,453:28418,462:34605,478:35115,485:35880,495:37665,541:43442,623:44050,632:44658,649:45190,657:45722,665:46330,675:46710,681:47166,688:47774,704:48154,712:48534,719:49142,728:49674,737:54386,864:55298,879:57198,922:57578,928:58034,936:58414,942:59402,959:64102,968:67506,1023:67874,1028:73302,1111:73670,1116:74130,1122:76154,1157:80250,1166:81080,1178:81661,1186:81993,1191:82989,1206:84483,1239:85313,1250:87388,1346:92672,1404:93264,1415:97112,1511:97556,1518:99628,1554:100294,1565:101034,1577:103106,1637:103772,1647:109380,1676:111590,1709:112100,1717:112950,1738:115245,1781:115925,1791:119247,1806:120226,1824:122451,1875:122896,1881:129304,2011:129838,2018:139036,2077:139828,2089:140260,2097:142924,2157:147676,2272:148324,2284:149116,2296:153947,2339:155790,2358:156178,2363:166169,2549:166945,2559:168012,2571:169370,2583:174680,2599:175517,2609:177656,2648:179051,2668:179795,2677:180539,2682:181934,2701:184538,2741:185189,2750:185840,2759:186491,2768:191018,2797:193709,2850:194054,2856:194537,2864:196120,2870:196952,2883:197592,2894:198040,2905:198296,2910:199448,2950:199704,2955:199960,2980:201880,3029:202520,3040:204632,3073:205336,3087:205976,3100:206360,3107:207384,3127:211670,3153:212490,3166:213228,3178:213966,3188:214540,3197:215524,3211:216344,3223:217574,3247:217984,3253:218394,3259:227660,3460:234634,3502:235130,3512:235440,3518:236960,3553$0,0:7530,127:8790,146:9960,163:10770,174:11940,188:12750,200:13380,207:13740,212:14190,218:16710,288:17880,305:18690,315:20040,334:22830,366:23730,377:24720,392:25530,404:26520,418:34966,443:36374,459:37254,472:37782,480:38134,485:40862,523:41918,538:43678,560:46054,595:52026,628:52471,634:54607,661:55942,680:57277,699:58523,724:61994,779:62795,789:63507,799:69737,869:70538,879:80480,941:80955,947:84470,991:85135,999:85990,1009:87035,1022:88270,1037:90360,1078:92925,1118:96250,1161:100938,1182:101910,1193:105690,1226:106770,1237:108822,1273:110010,1285:111846,1305:112926,1316:117664,1342:118180,1350:118610,1358:119470,1369:121018,1392:121964,1405:122566,1413:123426,1424:125748,1453:126178,1459:127124,1473:127984,1484:128672,1496:129360,1507:129962,1516:130650,1526:131166,1533:131940,1543:132456,1550:139624,1595:139972,1600:140668,1611:142321,1636:143104,1647:144235,1658:144844,1666:148846,1732:149890,1748:151021,1764:151369,1769:152674,1782:153196,1789:157540,1798:158890,1815:159340,1821:160600,1838:161500,1849:162040,1856:165560,1875:166535,1892:166835,1897:167960,1914:169085,1933:169535,1941:169910,1947:171110,1964:171860,1975:173810,2006:174485,2016:176135,2047:181393,2085:182263,2105:183046,2115:184264,2132:185047,2143:185830,2153:187048,2169:188266,2190:188614,2195:189832,2210:190441,2221:190789,2226:193312,2265:195052,2288:196270,2306:196618,2311:204104,2384:204548,2392:210320,2489:210616,2494:211356,2505:221386,2596:222184,2603:223381,2613:224578,2623:226041,2638:226839,2646:230040,2657:230640,2664:231640,2675:232240,2683:232940,2692:234701,2700:235310,2710:237659,2744:238094,2750:239834,2779:241226,2799:241835,2805:243140,2824:243836,2833:244184,2838:244880,2847:246620,2869:247055,2875:247403,2880:248273,2888:249056,2898:250013,2911:251144,2927:258080,2971:258820,2983:262150,3032:262594,3039:263482,3052:263778,3061:266550,3079
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dorothy Roberts' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dorothy Roberts lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dorothy Roberts describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dorothy Roberts describes her mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dorothy Roberts talks about her Jamaican ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dorothy Roberts describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dorothy Roberts describes her father's personality and interests

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her father's study of interracial marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dorothy Roberts describes her grandparents' reactions to her parents' interracial marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her father's education

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Dorothy Roberts describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her home inChicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Dorothy Roberts remembers her family's activities

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her home life

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Dorothy Roberts describes the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 16 - Dorothy Roberts remembers Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dorothy Roberts recalls the influence of her teachers at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her early interest in academics

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dorothy Roberts lists her sisters

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dorothy Roberts describes her early political activism

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dorothy Roberts talks about her family's time in Egypt

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her family's move to Evanston, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her experiences at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her early aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her activities at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Dorothy Roberts describes her peers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her activism at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her classmate, Hugh Gross

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Dorothy Roberts talks about the development of her research and writing skills

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her decision to attend the Harvard Law School

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her involvement in the National Black Law Students Association

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dorothy Roberts describes her classmates at the Harvard Law School

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her clerkship under Judge Constance Baker Motley

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her experience clerking for Constance Baker Motley

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dorothy Roberts recalls a trademark case at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dorothy Roberts remembers the case of Moe v. Dinkins

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dorothy Roberts talks about the role of legal clerks

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dorothy Roberts recalls joining the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Dorothy Roberts describes her casework at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Dorothy Roberts talks about her family

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dorothy Roberts recalls the development of her interest in reproductive rights

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dorothy Roberts recalls teaching at the Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dorothy Roberts recalls teaching at the Northwestern University School of Law in Evanston, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dorothy Roberts describes her article on black reproductive rights in the Harvard Law Review

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dorothy Roberts talks about her book, 'Killing the Black Body'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dorothy Roberts describes her scholarship on reproductive justice

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her fellowship from the Harvard Program in Ethics and the Professions

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her visiting professorship at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dorothy Roberts describes her research at Northwestern University

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Dorothy Roberts describes her research on the child welfare system

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Dorothy Roberts describes her research on biomedicine

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Dorothy Roberts describes the myths about the biology of race

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dorothy Roberts talks about the definition of race

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dorothy Roberts talks about the perpetuation of racial inequality

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dorothy Roberts talks about racial discrimination in the foster care system

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her position as the Kirkland and Ellis professor at Northwestern University School of Law

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dorothy Roberts remembers her Fulbright Fellowship

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dorothy Roberts recalls her research on gender with Rhoda Reddock

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dorothy Roberts describes her time as the Bacon Kilkenny Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at the Fordham University Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dorothy Roberts describes her involvement with the film 'Silent Choices'

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Dorothy Roberts reflects upon her career

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Dorothy Roberts shares her advice to future generations

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Dorothy Roberts reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Dorothy Roberts describes her hopes for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dorothy Roberts reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dorothy Roberts reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dorothy Roberts reflects upon her family

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dorothy Roberts shares a message to her children

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Dorothy Roberts reflects upon her faith

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Dorothy Roberts narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

4$1

DATitle
Dorothy Roberts describes her early political activism
Dorothy Roberts talks about the definition of race
Transcript
Now did you and your family attend church?$$Yeah. Gro- there was a St. Paul's Episcopal Church [St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church, Chicago, Illinois] that we attended. You know, I don't remember though, I actually remember more so going to the civil rights meetings there then going to church services there. And I can't quite recall how they were related, but I do remember, even without my parents [Iris White Roberts and Robert Roberts], going to meetings at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.$$What year would've this--this been?$$This would've been in the '60s [1960s], in the later 1960s, yeah. But I remember meetings about, you know, getting reports about the Civil Rights Movement in the South. Also I remember going to meetings that had to do with the Blackstone Rangers [Black P. Stone Nation]. 'Cause the--the gang, the Blackstone Rangers was present in our neighborhood. I mean they--present in the sense that we heard about them and I remember sometimes they would leave, not a lot of graffiti, but some graffiti on trees on--on our block. And I--I recall there was an effort to try to make peace with the Blackstone Rangers. I--I remember attending a meeting with members of the Blackstone Rangers when I was in elementary school [Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois]. My--my parents didn't--weren't there, but I, you know, we were so independent (laughter) when I was growing up. I did a lot of things without my--a--a lot with my parents, you know, we had these family activities that had to do more with travel and culture and museums, and that kind of thing. And then there were these political activities I participated in that it was just easy to walk to from my house. And I--and I recall St. Paul's Episcopal Church being a center of that.$$Now you mentioned you got reports on the Blackstone Rangers--$$Yeah.$$--were those reports coming from the police department [Chicago Police Department] or were they?$$No this was more had to do with sort of some social justice work where the--the aim was to--all I can think is peacemaking kind of work. We--well, but also, you know, just growing up in the neighborhood you'd hear--well when you said, maybe police repo- you know, in the newspapers you would her what was going on in surrounding neighborhoods. I mean I--there wasn't--it wasn't as if there were members of the Blackstone Rangers on our block, but close by, you know, in the South Side of Chicago [Illinois].$$So you were becoming politically active at a very young age?$$Yeah, not that real politically active, but politicized and attending meetings. I didn't go on a bus to the south, you know, or anything like that, but I--I did feel at a young age that I wanted to be aware of what was going on politically. I can remember subscribing to the Blackstone Rang- not the, but the Black Panther Party newspaper in elementary school. I know this was before, when we were living in Hyde Park [Chicago, Illinois] before we moved to Egypt. So it was sometime in elementary school and I can remember my--it coming to the house and my mother telling me I had to cancel the subscription. Because, not because she disagreed with the politics, but because she felt it would bring our house under suspicion by the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation]. She was--my mother was very aware of--of ways that, you know, you could get in trouble (laughter) and she didn't want--didn't want us to get in trouble. So I had to cancel it with the, after the first issue came (laughter) to the house.$We were talking a little bit about biomedicine and how it's being used to define race to a certain extent. But you've kind of taken the position that it's really social and environmental issues that really talk about what race is, could you elaborate a little bit more on that?$$Well, I define race as a political category to govern people. I think there's a good historical record to show that it was invented as a political system to both morally justify slavery, but also to help govern these groups of people who are supposed to be masters and slaves or colonizers and the colonized. And race is a way of, of demarcating those people in those--with that political status. It's not a natural category, so who, who is black or who is white is not natural, it's who in this political system is considered superior or the master or the colonizer or who has certain political privileges and who is black is who is considered to be in the group that can be enslaved or colonized or denied certain political privileges. That's how you tell, (laughter) you know, who's in what race, whoever is defined to be in those categories. You can't determine it in any natural way. And so that's the meaning of race. It--it's not a biological category. It, it, it, you know, in identifying people it refers to biological traits, but the category, itself, isn't a biological category. And so then when there's certain biological consequences of belonging or being assigned to a particular race, those have to do with the impact of social status or social conditions on the body because you belong to that category. It's not natural, so the reason why blacks die earlier from all sorts of common diseases isn't because they're naturally prone to die of those diseases. It's because they suffer from the disadvantages of being categorized in a particular racial category. And you know, racism has huge consequences for people's lives and some of those consequences are biological consequences. So I think it's extremely dangerous to now look at those consequences of racism that has to do with belonging to a political category and the social and political implications of that, and now saying it's just natural. Because if it's natural, then you don't have to change society to address the consequences. If it's natural, either you say well that's just tough luck, you know, that--God made it that way, you know, which is what people said for a long time. Or, you say, well we can develop some biological remedy for it, which is what I think a large part of the answer being given us today. But that's extremely different from saying we have to change the social inequality that is based on race or that race supports. I think the inequality comes first and race is the way of supporting it. And it's, it's not a natural division that produces inequality. And I, I think that that is extremely important to understand that distinction and, and for our investments in science and social policy to be geared toward addressing the social inequalities that are supported by race.