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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

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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.

John W. Daniels, Jr.

Noted corporate lawyer and civic leader John Windom Daniels, Jr. was born the second-oldest of eight children to John and Kathryn Townsel Daniels on June 11, 1948 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Daniels graduated from North Central College in Illinois with his B.A. degree in 1969 as the recipient of a National Science Foundation Fellowship. In 1970, at the age of twenty-one, Daniels became a Ford Foundation Fellow, and two years later, graduated from the University of Wisconsin with his M.S. degree.

Daniels then attended Harvard Law School, graduating with his J.D. degree in 1974. Soon after graduation, Daniels passed the bar exam, and began working for Quarles & Brady L.L.P., a full-service law firm with offices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Madison, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois and Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. Daniels was the first African American hired by the firm. In 1980, Daniels was elected to the American College of Real Estate Attorneys. The following year, Daniels became partner at Quarles & Brady. In 1983, Daniels was appointed Bar Examiner of the Wisconsin Board of Professional Competency by Wisconsin’s governor. Daniels was named to the State of Wisconsin’s Strategic Planning Council in 1987, and the following year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court appointed him to the Children’s Hospital Foundation Review Committee for the Child Abuse Prevention Fund.

Daniels was listed as one of the best lawyers in America by Real Estate Law in 1993. In 1994, he became a partner and a member of the management committee of his firm. Daniels joined the Greater Milwaukee Foundation Board of Directors in 2004, one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the United States. 2007 marked a new milestone for Daniels, as he became the first African American appointed to lead a major law firm in Wisconsin when he was named chairman and managing partner of Quarles & Brady L.L.P.

Accession Number

A2007.330

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/26/2007

Last Name

Daniels

Maker Category
Middle Name

Windom

Occupation
Schools

Grayton Elementary School

McKinley School

Custer High School

Wells Junior High School

North Central College

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Harvard Law School

First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Birmingham

HM ID

DAN04

Favorite Season

Christmas

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

France

Favorite Quote

It Is Rough Out There.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Wisconsin

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/11/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Milwaukee

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fish

Short Description

Corporate lawyer John W. Daniels, Jr. (1948 - ) was the first African American appointed to lead a major law firm in Wisconsin when he was named chairman of Quarles & Brady L.L.P. in 2007.

Employment

Quarles and Brady, LLP

V and J Foods, Inc.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John W. Daniels, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John W. Daniels, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his mother's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about his mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his mother's role in the community

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his father's family background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his father's educational background

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his father's occupation

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his parents' relationship and personalities

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes the role of religion in his family

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about the Church of God in Christ

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John W. Daniels, Jr. remembers his early interests

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about his leg disability

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his early education

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about segregation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John W. Daniels, Jr. remembers Custer High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John W. Daniels, Jr. remembers his introduction to civil rights activism

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his high school homecoming

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John W. Daniels, Jr. remembers joining the National Honors Society

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John W. Daniels, Jr. remembers North Central College in Naperville, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his friends at North Central College

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls a talented classmate at North Central College

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his decision to attend Harvard Law School, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his decision to attend Harvard Law School, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his initial impressions of Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his experiences at Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his wife's work in the Boston public schools

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John W. Daniels, Jr. remembers his role at the American Bar Association Law Student Division

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his mentors at Harvard Law School, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his mentors at Harvard Law School, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John W. Daniels, Jr. reflects upon his experiences at Harvard Law School

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls being recruited to law firms, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls being recruited to law firms, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls joining the law firm of Quarles and Brady LLP

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his projects at Quarles and Brady LLP

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about the law firm of Quarles and Brady LLP

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his role as chairman of Quarles and Brady LLP

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - John W. Daniels, Jr. reflects upon his chairmanship of Quarles and Brady LLP

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his legal philosophy

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about his civic duties as a lawyer

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about his relationship with T. Michael Bolger

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his restaurant franchise business, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his restaurant franchise business, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about the Fellowship Open

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about his organizational involvement

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his hopes for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - John W. Daniels, Jr. reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - John W. Daniels, Jr. talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - John W. Daniels, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes his advice to young lawyers

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - John W. Daniels, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - John W. Daniels, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

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DATape

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DAStory

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DATitle
John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls his high school homecoming
John W. Daniels, Jr. recalls being recruited to law firms, pt. 1
Transcript
Had a very good friend of mines who was the captain of the football team, he was an African American guy, one of these families that grew up in the neighborhood, and he was a very nice guy, so everybody liked him, that's how he got to be the captain of the football team, you know, he was a good player, everybody liked him, he was a good student. And the tradition in that high school [Custer High School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin] was that the captain of the football team was the king of the homecoming court. That was automatic. So if you were the captain of the football team, that's what, you were automatically the king who escorted the homecoming queen. The homecoming queen was picked by, you know, the kids in the high school. And so the, they vote, there were no, well, I shouldn't say no, there were very few black girls, 'cause there, you know, who were seniors, let's say five out of, you know, I don't know, six hundred or whatever it was, you know. And so they voted and the girls who won were the girls who were popular, I mean, you know, the girls you would expect to win. So obviously there are no, there were no minority girls on the homecoming court of five or six girls. And so I was walking home with, you know, my friend, he would, you know, I would be in, I don't know, debate club and he would be in football and then we'd, we'd get together and walk home together after school. And the, so we're walking home and, and he said something to me like, you know, "What do you think?" And I said, "Think about what?" And he said, "Well, you know, the coach of the football team called me in today and he told me that, you know, you know, we've traditionally done it this way but this year we're gonna do it a different way." And the, and it was an, it, it, it was an explanation, he didn't really tell my friend exactly what was going on, he made it seem like, you know, we're doing it this way because of, I don't know, you know, whatever the explanation was. And so we were walking home and we're trying to figure out what is the real reason. So you're trying to tell your friend, you know, the real reason is not because of race, but he's saying well, "How could that not be?" You know, you know, it's been, you know, it's been done that way for, forever. And that was really the first time, you know, I must have been a senior. That was the first time it really sort of in a real live way, in a personal way that, you know, I observed it. Because before I mean, I was like, captain of the debate team, I was on the student council, you know, I was president of the Latin club, you know, you know, a lot of my friends, you know, were white, you know, and, you know, it didn't really, it had never really sort of hit me in a direct way, and that was the first time.$$Now, was there any interracial dating when you were in high school? Did, did--$$There was some but it was sort of, you know, looked down on. I mean, you know, it was discouraged. And I think the, I think the football coach's concern was, you know, he didn't want to create a controversy. So he was trying to find a way to avoid a controversy. And, you know, my friend was very accepting of it, you know, what could he do, I mean really but, you know, was very accepting of it. But that was sort of like the first time, and I said, "Oh, boy, you know, I really do need to, you know, step back and take a look at this."$I remember when I came out of school in '74 [1974] the, there was a real push 'cause law firms really had, big law firms had not really had a long history of having African American lawyers in those firms. So I came out, when I was recruited in 1973, I had done pretty well at Harvard [Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts] and so I was being recruited by law firms and they, it was sort of one of the most interesting times at least in my career because you the, you'd go to a city like Richmond, Virginia, 'cause I wanted to go to, I did not wanna go to Wall Street, I wanted to either go to Atlanta [Georgia] or Richmond or Indianapolis [Indiana] or Milwaukee [Wisconsin] or Chicago [Illinois], I did not wanna go, I just didn't want the lifestyle of New York [New York]. And the, so I was being recruited by these firms, and the, you would go to this city and they, and they were trying to sort of assess how you would perform in these law firms. And when I was being recruited I think every law firm that I was recruited to with the exception of one in Atlanta, they really didn't have any African American lawyers. And I don't think any of 'em had any African American partners that I, the firms I was looking at, and these were good firms. And I remember going to Richmond and Richmond had some great firms. And the, there was a guy down there who really wanted to integrate the Richmond law firms and he was from Harvard. And so he came up to Harvard and, you know, he sat down and he said, you know, "I want you to come down there." And so I get down there, I go down to Richmond and the law firm was clearly an excellent law firm, excellent people. And then they want to sort of feel me out, see what kind of guy I was, you know, would I, you know, would I pass the Jackie Robinson test, I mean, that's what I call it, you know, you know, would I, you know, would I have enough tolerance to take, you know, what I might have to deal with. And, you know, (laughter) I needed a job so the, I knew that wasn't a particular issue.

Standish E. Willis

Criminal defense attorney Standish E. Willis is quick to make enemies in his work, but only because he insists on doing the right thing. Born in Chicago on August 16, 1941, the ex-gang member-turned-lawyer simply followed his conscience in choosing to take on unpopular clients whose civil rights are violated.

Willis grew up on the West Side, a blue-collar neighborhood and haven for gangs. When he was twelve, Willis joined the Van Dyke street gang and two years later was the leader of the Gents street gang. He became a father at age seventeen. Six months after graduating from Crane High School in 1960, Willis shipped off to the U.S. Air Force and shaped up. When he returned four years later, he took a job as a bus driver and began attending Crane College. As a student, Willis grew politically active, leading the campaign to name the new West Side campus Malcolm X College and organizing clubs and a "Communi-versity" to promote African and African American History.

In 1968, Willis completed his A.A. and transferred to the University of Chicago. He received his B.A. in 1971 and earned an M.A. in economics from the University of Illinois, Chicago, before enrolling at Chicago-Kent College of Law. He received his law degree in 1983 and joined People Law Office, a civil rights law firm.

In his career as an attorney, Willis has been an active crusader against police violence. He organized the African American Defense Committee Against Police Violence and later came full circle when he signed on to represent former street gang leader Aaron Patterson, who was convicted of a double murder in 1989. Willis took the case because Patterson claimed Chicago police beat a confession out of him, and Willis has made no apologies for offering counsel to such an unpopular figure.

In 1984, the Standish E. Willis Community Service Award was established to recognize a student for outstanding leadership and community involvement. Willis has been the recipient of several other awards for his service to civil rights and the community. Willis resides in Oak Park, Illinois. He has five children.

Accession Number

A2003.247

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/2/2003

Last Name

Willis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

E.

Occupation
Schools

William E. Gladstone Elementary School

Cregier High School

Richard T. Crane Medical Preparatory High School

University of Chicago

University of Illinois at Chicago

Chicago-Kent College of Law

Malcolm X College

First Name

Standish

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

WIL12

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii, New Mexico

Favorite Quote

Stay strong.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

8/16/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fish

Short Description

Civil rights lawyer Standish E. Willis (1941 - ) is best known as an activist against police violence and for representing former street gang leader Aaron Patterson, who was convicted of double murder in 1989.

Employment

Delete

People's Law Office

Favorite Color

Blue, Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Standish E. Willis's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis names his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis talks about his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis explains how his family moved to Chicago, Illinois during the Great Migration

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis talks about his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis remembers his father's stories of racism in the South

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis describes his father, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis describes his father, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Standish E. Willis describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Standish E. Willis talks about how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis recalls his childhood neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis recalls the sights, sounds, and smells of growing up on the West Side of Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis recalls the importance of sports in his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis describes the emergence of street gangs in Chicago

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis describes the systemic neglect in his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis recalls his experience at William E. Gladstone Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis recalls his high school experience in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis talks about working to support his son as a teenage father

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis explains why he decided to enter the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis recalls his time in the U.S. Air Force

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis describes how he was politicized while working for the Chicago Transit Authority during the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis explains why Black Nationalism appealed to him rather than the non-violent Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis recalls learning about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis explains the distinctions between the South Side and the West Side of Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis talks about Malcolm X's political philosophies

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis talks about the Black Students Association at Crane Junior College, later Malcolm X College, in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis describes the issues that concerned him and other student activists at Crane Junior College in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis talks about entering the University of Chicago in Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis describes the beginnings of Communiversity in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis talks about his studies at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis recalls HistoryMaker John Hope Franklin

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis talks about his studies at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis explains why he decided to become a lawyer

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis recalls his time at Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis talks about his shift from labor law to civil rights law

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis recalls his time at the People's Law Office during the 1980s

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis remembers the Fred Hampton case

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Standish E. Willis describes his involvement with Harold Washington's mayoral campaigns

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Standish E. Willis details his involvement with various networks including the National Conference of Black Lawyers

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis recalls the Andrew Wilson case in 1987 that exposed the practice of torture in the Chicago Police Department

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis describes the aftermath of the Jon Burge torture case

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis talks about the Aaron Patterson case

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis talks about wrongful conviction cases in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis talks about reluctance in the African American community to criticize law enforcement's encroachment on civil liberties

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis discusses the problems with the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act of 2001

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis discusses Illinois's conflicted stance around civil liberties and the death penalty

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis talks about whether he fears retaliation for his work

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis talks about organizing for reparations

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis describes his concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Standish E. Willis describes his concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Standish E. Willis speculates about various ways to enact reparations

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Standish E. Willis reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Standish E. Willis considers what he would have done differently

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Standish E. Willis talks about his parents' pride in his career

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Standish E. Willis describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Standish E. Willis narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Standish E. Willis narrates his photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Standish E. Willis narrates his photographs, pt. 3

DASession

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DAStory

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DATitle
Standish E. Willis talks about his studies at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, pt. 1
Standish E. Willis talks about the Aaron Patterson case
Transcript
So, what did you major in at the University of Chicago [Chicago, Illinois]?$$As I say, I started off in sociology. When I got there--I always had an interest in history. Because, you know, as a black nationalist, you're always studying history--African history, African American history--everybody's history, you know. That's what Malcolm [X] taught: you always study history--European history, you know, everybody's history. I became more interested in history because I was studying it all the time. And then in addition to that, [HM] John Hope Franklin was at the University of Chicago at the time, and I got the opportunity study under him, you know. And he was, you know, one of our premier historians. So, I shifted to history--American history with an emphasis on African American history. Because the University of Chicago didn't have an African American History curriculum. But you could emphasize or minor, I guess you could say, in African American history, and that's what I did. And then I got interested in Latin American history, Latin American Studies. There was a young professor, John Coatsworth, a white professor, who was, you know, very, very analytical. And I started, I took some of his classes, and I became very interested in what he was doing in economic history. And, and when I went on to a PhD [degree], I actually was following his--studying under him. I went into Latin American studies as a Ph.D. candidate.$Now, the Aaron Patterson case is another celebrated case here in Chicago [Illinois]--$$Yes.$$--that all the justice-concerned groups were involved in. What's that about?$$Well, Aaron Patterson was one of the victims of Jon Burge. He was tortured into confessing to a double murder, and he got, you know, the death sentence. And, you know, we--you know, at a certain point we became convinced that he was a Burge victim, and was innocent. So people began to organize to try to free, specifically, Burge victims. You know, there's different layers of the movement. There are some layers--and I'm included in the abolitionist layers of the movement that want to abolish the death penalty. But within that, there were people that were specifically organizing to free these victims of police brutality, Burge victims. And as you know, you know, after a lot of work, Governor [George] Ryan pardoned Aaron and Madison Hobley, and one other brother; I can't think of his name now. But it wasn't just the goodness of the governor, although, you know, he should be commended. It had been a lot of work. The abolitionist movement has been, had been working around these issues for a number of years trying to fight to abolish it, and trying to educate people, and trying to make sure people supported the moratorium, you know, and all of that. And finally the governor did the right thing, and we were very happy that he did. Of course, Aaron is out, and he hit the ground running. I mean he's been trying to help some of the other brothers get out. In fact, he bonded one out on his own. He had some money coming from the... When you're wrongfully convicted, if you get a pardon of innocence, then there's a formula that has been devised by the State [of Illinois] where you can get compensation from the State, unopposed. So he had money coming, so he took that as a lien and went to one of these loan sharks and they loaned him a $100,000. And he borrowed $100,000, paid enormous interest on it--like $20,000 on the money we was going to get--just to get one of his, one of the other brothers out on bond. You know, and that's kind of how Aaron is. You know, he's a very unusual person, to say the least--very committed. And now, we're representing Aaron in a civil rights lawsuit against Jon Burge and, you know, many of his henchmen. And that's going forward in the federal district court at this very moment.