The Black Law Student: A Problem of Fidelities

There is one lawyer for every 637 persons in the United States, but only one black lawyer for every 7000 blacks. Many changes —in attitudes, in curricula, in objectives— need to come before that blatant inequity is reduced. The author earned a law degree from Harvard, taught at the University of Iowa, and toured Southern campuses for qualified black law-school candidates to accumulate the facts and impressions that make up this singular study of the tough choices that face the blacks who need the law and the whites who run the machinery that produces lawyers.

To return to the South causes a black man to feel both proud and embarrassed. The pride comes when he assesses the fruits of Ids migration and recognizes what he presently is; and the embarrassment comes later, during his stay, when he becomes aware that he is seeking, in the minds of the people he left there, some remembrance of what he was. I went back as a recruiter of law students and tried to recall myself as I had been almost four years before, when I first began to consider the law. In a black college, not nearly adequate but bulging with identity, I sat and thought about it.

I remember that a man from Howard Law School came and looked at my grades, and then assured me that there was money enough for me and room enough for me if I wanted to go. I considered it. I found some Blackstone and read. From someplace, perhaps from my reading of Galsworthy, came the idea that lawyers began by reading Blackstone. A man from Stanford Law School came recruiting, and I told him that I had already read some Blackstone. He laughed, and said that there was money enough and room enough at Stanford for me. I felt pretty damn important. Then a man came down from Harvard, an extremely kind man. who looked at my grades and at a part of my mind, and then said there might be money enough and room enough for me at Harvard. And a month later a letter came which offered me a seat that, but for the fact that the nation’s conscience had been pricked, might very easily have been filled by an eager genius. I felt very valuable.

Four years later, armed with what had been offered me, I went back to the South looking for myself, and for students for r lie Iowa I .aw School. I looked in ten black colleges, but I did not find my face on the students I saw and I did not hear my questions in their voices. Today the campuses are tight. Students are attempting a lonely, painful, seemingly uncertain assessment of themselves. The times have helped them to know their worth, in spite of the deficiencies in their academic preparation, and the questions they put to me were not the ones I asked four years ago.

“How is law school relevant to the immediate needs of the black community?” a sun-shaded, dash ikied senior at North Carolina A & I asked.

“If I knew the whole answer to that,” I told him, “I would have an office in Washington now.”

But, characteristically, he did not laugh; and I knew that a quip would not be good enough. And so I fell back on the documents. I told him that blacks constitute over 10 percent of the national population, but only one percent of the National Bar Association. I said that there is one lawyer for every 637 persons in the United States, but only one black lawyer for every 7000 black persons. I noted that half of the blacks in the country live in the South, but only 15 percent of the black lawyers practice there. To astonish him further with statistical evidence of why he was needed, I observed that in the South every black lawyer must serve 28,500 black people. But more than this, in Mississippi, there are only 6 black lawyers for a black population of 900,000. But still, I felt that this was not enough of an answer to his question; and I think that he must have felt my embarrassment because he did not press me further for an answer.

by James Alan McPherson

“I don’t want to go to a white law school,” a junior at Southern University told me. ”1 plan to go to the law school here.”

He wants to be a corporate lawyer, he says, and he wants to make money. He is being honest, and lie knows that the only real equality is economic equality. Again there is a painful, irrepressible question to avoid. With all its dedication, with all its intellectual resources straining, the Southern University Law School will never be able to guide this junior to the money-mills of Wall Street, where he wants to be. But how could I tell him this without offending the very delicate sense of racial pride so important and sensitive and protective to all of us?

“Why don’t you want to go to a white school?” I asked the unavoidable question.

“1 know what happens to black students in them,” he said. “They get so lonely they go crazy. I’d rather stay here.”

“At the better law schools the Wall Street firms come and beg black students to apply for jobs,” I told him.

“I want to stay in my own community.”

“For how long?” I asked. He did not answer. “I went to a white law school, and I survived it,” I said. “I’m still black and I’m still sane.”

He sat looking at me, and his eyes were so close to accusation that I almost felt compelled to add, “I think.”

If I had had the time and the words and the necessary hard rationality, I would have attempted to prove to him that it is possible to endure, maintain a sense ol oneself, and even do well at a white law school. But f was not certain of what the real problems were. And I was equally uncertain of whether I truly believed what 1 wanted to tell him. So I offered no explanations, no personal experiences for illustration, and he finally went away while I waited for more seniors to come in. They came, but the same question came back at me; and I was still unable to make a sufficient answer. Why should some of these students fear attending a white law school, one that was actively recruiting them with special considerations and the promise of a monied future? What are they afraid of losing?

The obvious answer is, of course, their identity. But having said that, one must admit that the question is still unanswered. There are layers, very delicate, almost imperceptible levels, to this identity problem. One must consider, individually, the legal profession, the vocabulary of the times and its effects on certain members of the black minority group, the black law student, his law-school environment, his reaction to it, and its reaction to him.

I am often told by militant friends that law is a racist profession. And the use of this emotive word is not totally inaccurate, it is argued, because its meaning can be refined to suggest that the study of law assumes a certain affinity for and a certain fidelity to already existing economic, political, and, to some extent, cultural institutions. And these institutions were shaped, for the most part, by members of the majority group for the benefit of their group. This is not to suggest that the focus of the legal profession is fixed and incapable of serving the interests of other cultural groups, but rather that ethnic groups which are politically and economically below the majority group cannot take a similar view of the profession as a protective discipline or of the lawyer as a protector of vested interests. This comfortable position can be enjoyed only by those who have vested interests for lawyers to protect. Members of the black community, for example, may view the law as nothing more than a weapon with which they can effect certain social changes, forge room for themselves on the social scale, and create some vested interests in the institutions already established by the majority group.

The area of civil rights and civil liberties has, historically, been the only level of the legal system on which blacks have had some direct impact or have claimed a vested interest. Most black lawyers have operated in the courts, but courtroom litigation is only a very small part of the legal arena, and most white lawyers spend very little time there. In the larger society, the lawyer works for firms, great and small, for business, and for government: three areas which only recently have made any sort of job offers to the relatively small number of blacks with legal training. To oversimplify tlie point, one might say that in the past the white lawyer has been able to walk out of law school into what one might call his father’s firm, while the black lawyer has usually had to make his living on tire fringes of the preserves maintained by the large cultural group. One might even call him the real ambulance-chaser of the legal profession.

The black minority has not vet developed its own institutions to tire extent necessary for equal participation, competition, and interest in a society which can never really respect or assimilate a minority group without developed economic, political. and cultural foundations. Blacks, apparently, have only recently come to the realization that independent growth is essential before there can be any talk of real equality. This is why there is at present a massive drive to promote black business (or better, black capitalism) ; this is why blacks are attempting to fill as many political offices as are available; and this is the reason behind the great surge, on every level of black society, to claim and develop everything which contributes to a sense of cultural identity. Perhaps because of a historic concentration on constitutional law by black lawyers as a method of forging room for this development, or perhaps because of riots or intimations of a possible race war, the larger soc iety is slowly makingroom for, or is at least willing to open its institutions to, certain educated minority members. And, between tlie recent assertions of the black group and the recent willingness of established white institutions to “open" and admit competent blacks lies the very fust level of the black law student’s “identity problem.”

When most blacks were excluded from the major law schools and the major receptacles of good legal training, the idea of black cultural identity was easily maintained, perhaps as one of the advantages of tlie disadvantages. But with the best law schools recruiting and with more job opportunities available, and since there are not nearly enough black firms or businesses to accommodate potential graduates, the black law student has a torturous decision to make: should he work for an institutional order in which his people do not set have a sound enough investment to make his work relevant to their needs, or should he strike a compromise with himself—with certain of the skills he has accpiired which have made him serviceable to the institutions of the greater culture—and return to a poor, black community, where there is much building to be done, to do what those black lawyers who did not have his options were forced to do? The skills have been developed by the time he completes his studies; the money is tempting; and who can condemn the black lawyer who chooses the most financially profitable option? There are those to whom the sense of social obligation, the idea of a truly ecjual black minority, is more worthwhile. While the black student is just as eager to learn the law as his white classmates, I suspect that all during law school he must consider these options.

The whole movement to recruit black students for legal training grew out of a recognition that there was a serious underrepresentation of black lawyers in the national bar, and a very serious shortage of black lawyers in the South. Prior to 1964, there were very few black college graduates entering the major law schools. One of the obstacles which kept them out, if we ignore for a moment the reputedly poor educational facilities of many Southern black colleges, was their inability to perform well on the Law School Admission Test (called LSAT) . A respectable score, I understand, is 650 to 700. Every testee is given 200 points for signing his name, but somehow, black students have managed to score as low as 214.

However, working from the assumption that test scores do not necessarily predict how well a person, any person, may do in law school, the American Bar Association, the Association of American Law Schools, the National Bar Association, and the Law School Admission lest Council joined together in 1918 to sponsor the Council on Legal Education Opportunity (called CI.EO). The stateil aim of die Council was to help “culturally deprived” college juniors—blacks, Mexican-Americans, and American Indians—to consider law as a profession and to apply to law schools. One of the better ideas of the council was to recruit additional students for the profession and leave the consideration of their LSAT scores to the law schools which might accept them.

As early as 1965, Harvard Law School, with financial backing from the Rockefeller Foundation. had attempted to judge the abilities of black law-school applicants by setting up a “Special Summer Program.” This experimental program was modeled, on a much smaller scale, after the actual academic conditions of the Harvard Law School: and forty juniors and a few seniors from Southern black colleges -were given introductory courses somewhat like those taught to first-year latv students and competed with white students in courses in the Harvard Summer School. Most of the forty students did well: in fact, there were three A’s and quite a few B’s reported from the summer school courses, although it is interesting to note that one of the students suffered a nervous breakdown at the end of the session. Still, the Special Summer Program was successful. By 1968, there were four such programs being conducted: at Emory University in Georgia, at the University of Colorado at Denver, at UCLA, and at Harvard. Professor David W. Robinson of the University of Texas Law School, who taught in the CLEO program at Emory during the summer of 1968. concluded that “the LSAT is presently useless as a predictor ol law school performance for graduates of Negro colleges. I can’t tell you why,” lie said, “but I am trying to find out.”

To ensure a steady flow ol black students into law schools, which now welcome them with open arms and wallets, the Council on Legal Education Opportunity has requested funds from the Office ol Economic Opportunity. CLEO estimated that it would need approximately $2,500,000 to help finance a minimum target group of 500 blacks, Indians, and Mexican-Americans through law school by 1973. This figure does not include tuition, which CLEO hoped might be contributed by the law schools themselves, or through funds raised by them. And although even this minimum sum lias not yet been raised, it is safe to assume that many more black students will have to face mentally exhausting study pressures and psychologically exhausting environmental pressures. How students react to their studies, I believe, is directly related to how well they endure these pressures. And it is with certain of these pressures that I am concerned here.

It has always bothered me that three very bright black students, two from excellent Ivy League colleges and the third from one of the best black colleges, flunked out after our first year at Harvard, while those of us from black colleges of rather dubious academic repute managed to survive. One of the men obviously preferred to read literature much more than to read law. The other two had a very keen sense of obligation to what was called in those days “the civil rights movement.” Both had been highly active in civil rights affairs before coming to law school—in fact, one man came to Harvard directly from a Mississippi jail—and both worked in civil liberties organizations at the law school during that first year. All three men had had extensive experience in predominantly white situations. They studied, they attended classes, they discussed the issues, like all of us; but at the end of the first year their final grades required the faculty to send them away. Did they really study, or did they actively, perhaps painfully, go through the motions of studying without the desire to digest what was before them? Were they psychologically prepared to give themselves over entirely to the study of civil procedure, contracts, thirteenth-century property law, and the ponderous history of the English legal system? Here one must consider the word “relevance.”

Were these two men looking for some immediate relationship between subjects which required most of their time and the social situations which they had agreed to leave for a while? If one assumes that they sincerely sought relevance, it is possible to see, or at least to speculate on, why they did not succeed during that first year. The answer seems simple: they failed to recognize that the study of law has no immediate relevance to the black community. It is almost pure study. The real relevance comes only after the period of training, when the individual student has to decide for himself what role he wants to play with the tools he has acquired. At this point, it seems to me, the law becomes most relevant. But it is not the duty of the school or the professors to make it meet the needs of the black minority; the duty belongs, as it always has, to the individual law student. He must create or advance the relevance he calls for. But for those who cannot endure three years without an answer, for those who cannot rationalize the longrange relevance of the necessary bread-and-butter courses, there is little possibility of devotion to subjects that promise nothing immediate but require nothing less than the highest fidelity. And the counterfidelity of the black student, suggested by such words as “relevance” and “black,” sometimes keeps him at an unhealthy distance from that which the academic situation requires as the object of all his affections. Thus, there is a dual fidelity: one dictated by the study itself and the other by a sense of cultural obligation and the mood of the community.

This ambivalence, if it can be called that, seems to be the product of the student’s reaction to considerations that are externally imposed on him. In essence, it is a reaction to the mood of the black people beyond the campus and a reaction to his sense of the white people who surround him on the campus. If, for example, consideration of the words “black" and “relevance” causes him to measure the significance of his studies against the significance of the more active roles taken by other blacks far removed from the academic life, the student will, logically, turn to his peers—law students, black and white—for some reinforcement; some indication that his choice of intellectual weapons was a correct one. For, in reality, he has chosen to make his emotional reactions secondary to his intellect. But if his peers, his white classmates especially, choose to reinforce his emotional assessments and ignore those made by his intellect, the student will, inevitably, go through a period of self-doubt, guilt, and re-evaluation of the community’s conception of him. To support this generalization, I offer an example.

One December night a black girl who had entered law school during my second year telephoned me at 2 A.M. and said that she was, at that moment, running around in the basement of the graduate women’s dormitory in her gym suit. She wanted to go for a walk, and I dressed and met her at the dormitory. She is a brilliant girl, and at that time she was what some of the more aware black students at the law school called “the Black Hope” (meaning that she was one of the few blacks whom the faculty expected to make Law Review after exams). She had attended one of the best colleges in the country, had made Phi Beta Kappa, and had many of us, both black and white students, just a bit envious of her rumored LSAT scores. Already there were stories floating around the campus of her well-reasoned comments in class. She had just joined the Black Law Students’ Association, which was formed that year, and was at the time more active on its behalf than its founder. She was doing exceptionally well, and yet she could not sleep at night.

“Do you think I’m stuck-up or snobbish?” she asked me as we walked.

“No,” I said. “Why?”

“Some of the girls in the dorm say that,” she said after a while.

We went on to a restaurant and tiad coffee, and watched a fistfight.

“What do you think of the whites?” she asked.

I gave my opinions. Then I asked, “Are you having trouble with them?”

Her answer was evasive and suggested that her ideas were being polarized and that she was beginning to question the fidelities which had brought her, an open, mild-mannered person, as far as law school. I attempted to be wise by observing that attending law school was like moving into an allwhite neighborhood: one is interested in the house, I said, not the neighbors.

I began to watch her after that night, and I began to notice her transition from a happy, gregarious person to a tight, brooding creature of fantastic racial sensitivity. If she had been comfortable in an almost-white situation before coming to the law school, which was the impression she gave at first, she was now becoming more and more conscious of her blackness. During her second year she became increasingly active in the Black Law Students’ Association; she moved out of the dormitory and into an apartment with two other black girls and a white girl, but the white girl soon moved out. At one point site stopped attending classes. Sometimes, when I caught sight of her on campus, she would be so preoccupied that I would have to touch her before she spoke.

And so I was not really shocked, a little over a year after our December walk, when site told me that site was leaving law school.

“Why are you leaving?” I asked while following her into a bank.

“This is a racist place,” she said.

“Of course it is,” I said. “But you came for the degree. Blacks are working on degrees at the University of Mississippi.”

“I don’t want it,” she said. “I just want to get out of tlaIs place tonight.” I offered my best wishes and left Iter to close Iter account.

The fact that she left in the middle of the school year caused the faculty some concern because, unlike the three men who had left after their first year, she had already demonstrated her ability to do well. Perhaps she was right when she said that the law school is a racist place: I wotdd not attempt to argue that it is not because there are too many people and too much diversity of attitudes. But 1 think that it wotdd be safe to say that the girl had never been “all black” before that first year, and that the motivation to adopt this attitude was partially voluntary and partially caused by those peculiar animals called white liberals. The fact that the girl found a good number of her friends among whites during her first year, and the fact that she was violently opposed to any sort of contact with them just a year later, suggests that whites complicate the overall “identity problem” of the black student by supplying the wrong kind of reinforcement.

To me, there are two kinds of liberals: the type of fellow who would take off his coat in a snowstorm and put it around my shoulders, and tire type of fellow who would caution me to wear a coat against the snow. And I prefer the latter to the former simply because he is real and may be genuinely concerned over my keeping warm, whereas the former is concerned with suffering from the cold himself for my benefit. At best the liberal is a well-meaning, socially active, sympathetic person; at worst he is a constant, convenient whipping boy for blacks who may have need of some sort of scapegoat. But much more than this, the serious liberal may function as an external reminder to blacks that they are out of their proper cultural environment; and some of the more fawning liberals seem to enjoy noting that they have taken upon themselves the obligation to make blacks comfortable in that alien culture. This self-imposed obligation only fosters a sense of specialness for those reluctant beneficiaries of well-intentioned paternalism. And the attempts to maintain a controlled environment tend to make a black man feel that he can never become just another law student, or a competitive face in the academic crowd.

The word “liberal,” like the words “racist” and “black.” is impossible to define adequately because of the many levels of meaning invested in it. The black student who has no working definition can only fix certain types of activity with the label, activity which could range from an almost pathological concern for the welfare of black students to the insidious practice of cornering a single black person at a party, sometimes special parties, with the inevitable inquiry: “How docs it feel?” The real test of a white law student’s friendship and respect for the intellectual abilities of his black classmate, I believe, is indicated by the types of subjects on which he solicits the ideas of the black. If the source of all his questions is ultimately a hunger for ideas on racial matters when both students are studying the same subjects, perhaps having the same difficulty and needing the benefit of some mutual intellectual exchange, it is a fair assumption that the white student sees no further into the black student than his skin and may have little respect for his intellect or his ideas of what the law is all about.

Characteristically, the liberal seldom gets mad; even when he has overwhelming justification, even when it would be much healthier for both parties, black and white, to express some honest anger. This omission is a special kind of racism, special in the sense that it refuses to recognize the human weakness of the black, his right to be wrong or petty or to have an offensive personality. The white who refuses to recognize this in the name of liberality is making a substantial contribution to an already tense situation because he is doing the very same thing as the racist-hunting black: he overlooks weaknesses that are necessarily human, denies a man the right to be only what lie is and no more than that, and perpetuates his anxiety. This kind of white helps no one, least of all himself, and only leeds the feeling of blacks that everything is being controlled for their benefit. The white student, or professor, who hesitates to criticize in class the sloppy reasoning of a black student keeps alive the idea that the black student is being subsidized, intellectually, and cannot be expected to meet the standards set for other students.

Given over to the whims of this peculiar animal, is it any wonder that blacks attempt to establish some sort of separate cultural enclave, or semipolitical grouping, as soon as they are in sufficient number on a white campus? For once they have accepted an unreal social life based on this sort of overintentioncd paternalism, they have no choice but to become “kept” representatives for the millions of blacks who have their own minds and their own ideas of how they want to live and what they arc. In essence, the acceptance of this peculiar relationship subtly robs the Student of his individuality and forces upon him a responsibility which he may have chosen to postpone for at least three years, or, perhaps, one that he has chosen to ignore altogether. The liberal, therefore, tends to remind the black law student of his dual fidelity. It seems to me that if black law students are going to be constantly reminded ol their racial obligations, a better alternative would be for them to remind themselves. And it seems that they have found a way to do it through the development of black cultural enclaves.

While I doubt if the continued growth of AfroAmerican Student Associations could ease most of the frustrations caused by the black student’s “identity” problem, I do think that they make substantial contributions toward that end. Besides providing the black law student with some immediate focus for the legal skills he is acquiring, they also give him a sense of cultural presence on the white campus which helps to decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness. They are collective, cultural islands on which black students in a dubious transition can pause and assess themselves, and their direction, before moving on. Also, they enable the black students to have their own sphere of social activity, if they choose to, thus preserving them from what may be a very painful assimilation into the culture around them. Whether this self-segregation is good or bad is a judgment beyond my competence. It can be said, however, that Afro organizations allow the students to maintain some sense of independence and perhaps reduce their feelings of specialness on a campus which, sometimes, views them as guests. Occasional cocktail parties given by concerned faculty members are not sufficient; and neither are tutors, liaison personnel, or group therapy meetings at which blacks can vent their frustration on liberal professors and students. All of these attempts have behind them the suggestion of dependency, and there seems to be a very real relationship between the amount of anxiety among black students and the extent of the dependency they have on the whites who desire to help them. This feeling can be reduced only when there are enough blacks on white campuses to establish an inteidependent, self-sufficient black community.

Any thorough discussion of the academic problems caused by the recruitment of black law students should, of necessity, come from the academic side of the desk. But certain of them are essential to the problem under consideration here, and ought to be explored. Many black students are recruited by law schools, and in many cases LSAT scores and even freshmanand sophomore-year grades are not given primary consideration. In essence, the schools look only at the strongest indication of a black student’s ability in order to make their judgment of his prospects. If a student with serious academic handicaps is admitted, they expect that he will not do very well. The hope of most law schools is that the black student can manage to meet the minimum academic requirements; that is all that is expected of him, and law schools take every precaution to ensure that lie is financially secure enough to devote most of his time to study. And to ensure that the students get the maximum benefit from their studies, some law schools supply tutors during the first year. While this is a very generous policy from an academic point of view, it sometimes serves to reinforce the student’s feeling that he is special and that, in spite of his intentions and all his drive to compete with his white classmates, there is a presumption that he lacks the ability to function on his own. And this presumption is especially painful for the black student who has a competitive college record and a fair LSAT score. In this situation it is possible for him to feel that he has been judged by the presumption and is being pushed, unfairly, into an intellectually embarrassing category.

During my first year of law school some of my black classmates, some from the best Ivy League colleges, were pressured, along with those of us from less respectable colleges, to accept tutorial assistance. There was a good deal of resentment, even though the help might have been needed by some of us. There were seventeen black students in my law school class, and we were all scared; perhaps more than the white students. Traditionally, first-year law students are supposed to be afraid, or at least awed; but our fear was compounded by the uncommunicated realization that perhaps we were not authentic law students and tiie uneasy suspicion that our classmates knew that we were not, and, like certain members of the faculty, had developed paternalistic attitudes toward us. The silence, the heavy sense of expectation, fell on all of the blacks in a classroom whenever one of us was called upon for an answer. We waited, with the class, for the chosen man to justify the right of all of us to be there. And the busy silence between the time a black student was called on and the time he began to make an answer was alive with all our answers being pushed, by sad attempts at some kind of empathy, from all sections ol the huge room to the mind of the man who, for the moment, represented all of us. The rest of the class would wait sometimes, and embarrassed white faces would turn away while the instructor repeated the cpiestion, and papers would rattle in signals of sympathy. And when an answer came, however poor it was, there would be relief visible in the faces of the white students and the instructor. and audible in the renewed breathing of the rest of the black students. After class, the student who had been called on, and a few of his friends, might walk hurriedly down the hall; the black student perhaps apologizing, perhaps rationalizing Ins inability to give a better answer. At such times it would not be unusual for a white friend to sav, “I’m glad he didn’t call on me. I couldn’t have answered that question myself.” But it would be very unlikely that the black student would agree.

I cite this not as an example of the black student’s inability to compete successfully with bis white classmate, but rather, as an example of the psychological pressures on him to work even harder than his white classmates and to take every minor defeat much more seriously than it. ought to be taken; to invest in it certain racial implications. There were many white students who could not give adequate answers to questions put to them; but I suspect that none of their white classmates felt that their own intellectual equipment was being measured by the performance of these people. Black students, however, do feel this relationship, and how this sense of communal inadequacy can be lessened is a consideration beyond my competence. It is a problem that should rightly haunt law school administrations, just as the problem of what to do with black students who are really inadequate presently haunts them. My own feeling is that because of his minority status in the law schools and because of pressures on him from both communities, tire black law student is fearful of expressing himself, or of viewing himself, as an individual. And therefore, he feels responsible for the welfare, the ideas, even the image of those around him like himself. Until there are enough competent blacks in law schools to make each student feel sufficiently secure in his status, to assert himself and to feel responsible for only himself, this problem will continue.

In regard to the divided loyalties of blacks, one can only hope that the profession itself will eventually reduce the conflict between the moral attraction of the black community and the financial attraction of the conventional employers of legal talent through such agencies as Community Legal Assistance Offices, integration witli other disciplines which deal with urban problems, special concentration in areas such as rehabilitative programs in prisons and mental institutions, and other areas which involve direct contact with people. The profession has no choice in this matter: even now white law students are saying that the real work must be done outside the established preserves. And some law schools, Harvard and Yale, for example, already have such programs under way. On the other side, the black student must realize that whatever choice he makes, he has the right to make it. as an individual, and that the consequences of his decision are his alone.

There are no statistics on the number of black law graduates who return to the South. Perhaps these are not necessary. But what should be measured is the number of black law graduates who opt for the high positions for which they have been trained, and their reactions to such employment. It is my suspicion that no matter where they go, no matter how they function, if they are still in a minority status they have to cope with the very same problems: the ambivalence, the question of relevancy, the paternalistic patterns. There is no escaping, and there never will be until either black institutions are developed enough to absorb their own people or black lawyers are in sufficient number in the white preserves to create the important sense of community and common direction. But this will take time.

And then there is the problem of enduring while in law school. To suggest some solution one must consider the reasons why black students have been so eager to accept tlie invitations and money extended to them. My suspicion is that many students want to become lawyers, and many view the law as a valid means of making a contribution to the cultural expansion of the black group. But— and this is a reason that few black students will admit—for some the opportunity provides only the chance to prove that they are intelligent, that they are intellectually capable of competing with the best that white society sends to the battle. Three years of hard work during which one’s true interests are only secondary is a terrible price to pay just to refute a false assumption. And making the student feel special, placing him in a category which takes intellectual limitations for granted at the start of the ordeal, only makes his struggle that much harder, and much more painful.

Could law schools recruit more black students but become more selective in their admissions policies, thus enabling them to drop all such categories? There is a great intellectual potential in the students coming out of black colleges these days; I saw it in their perceptions and questions on campuses all over the South. Would it be too hard on the law school personnel and the white students to recognize each black class member as an individual? The fact that some white students arc beginning to react to what they consider overcompensatory accommodations for black students may suggest that the use of black students as a source of private purgation is almost over. And what comes after this?

As for the vocabulary, the majority group’s expectations, the black students’ attempts to establish some sort of collective identity on a white campus, these can be adjusted only with time and understanding and a recognition that munificence, no matter how well intentioned, is still directly related to the ability of the donor to recognize the consequences of his act and the intellectual and emotional capacity of the recipient to perceive whether what he has been offered is truly of any value to him.

There was a girl in Chit ago at a conference of black law students last May, a black girl from Alabama who had been a classmate of mine. I sat next to her at dinner, and saw a reflection of my own rootlessness and uncertainty in her eyes. There was an impulse in me to ask a question, to test some part of my present sell against some part of her, just to see if we both were still what we were three years ago. She was on her way to Atlanta to work in a Community Legal Assistance Office. There was a kind of commitment to law in her, and I felt like a traitor. We had both walked dirt roads in the South, and she, at least, was trying to go home. I asked her, “Are you happy now that it’s all over?”

She used to be a laughing girl, full of that spontaneity so characteristic of Southern black people. But she had lost that. And after thinking awhile, she said, “No. But now I know that there’s no white man in the world who can say that I’m dumb.”

It is a great pity, and most of the real problem, that so much of any person’s life and mind and energy should have to be spent in refuting, or retreating from, something as ephemeral as a false assumption.