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Published on April 10th, 2018 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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Reconstruction’s legacy: Top legal minds to discuss 14th Amendment’s relevance to today

As immigration and the state of race relations headline national conversations, some of the country’s top legal scholars and historians will explore the meaning of American citizenship in the context of the 14th Amendment during a two-day public symposium in Columbia, South Carolina.

Presented by the University of South Carolina’s History Center and Historic Columbia, “Reconstruction’s Legacy: The History and Contemporary Significance of the Fourteenth Amendment,” will be held April 19 and 20 at Chappelle Auditorium and the South Carolina State Museum. It is the continuation of a series of public events over the past two years marking the 150th anniversary of the Reconstruction era.

“The Fourteenth amendment was the cornerstone of Reconstruction, became the foundation of the civil rights movement, and has been central to the expansion of full constitutional rights and protections for all American citizens,” says Patricia Sullivan, history professor and director of the History Center. “Our event provides an opportunity for dialogue on how this history informs current debates around topics such as policing and the rights of the criminally accused, reproductive rights, issues concerning gender and sexuality, and immigration and birthright citizenship.”

Columbia native Randall Kennedy, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the 1980s, will deliver the symposium’s keynote address on Thursday, April 19 in the historic Chappelle Auditorium at Allen University. A professor at Harvard Law School, Kennedy specializes in race and law, civil rights and civil liberties.

Returning to the historic Waverly neighborhood where he was born, Kennedy will address the impact of the 14th Amendment broadly and also directly connect it to his family’s experiences in South Carolina.

“Professor Kennedy has deep connections both to the area and to important neighborhood residents, including the late Judge Matthew Perry,” says Robin Waites, executive director of Historic Columbia. “Justice Thurgood Marshall often spoke from the podium at Chappelle, with Kennedy’s father and uncle in the audience, making this an especially fitting venue for his keynote address.”

The symposium will continue Friday, April 20 at the South Carolina State Museum where Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David Levering Lewis will deliver a keynote address at a luncheon. Lewis, a history professor at New York University, was recognized with the top writing honor for his two-volume biography of W.E.B. Du Bois.

The day’s events also include a morning panel session focusing on the relationship of the 14th Amendment to the African American struggle for civil rights, and the afternoon discussion will consider the significance of the amendment to the rights of American citizens to legal equality, without regard to sex, gender, physical ability and other categories previously beyond the reach of such constitutional guarantee.

The panels, which will feature top legal professionals and historians from South Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York, will include question and answer sessions.

Other sponsors for the two-day event include South Carolina Humanities, the University of South Carolina’s School of Law and Center for Civil Rights History and Research, American Board of Trial Lawyers, SC Chapter, Burnette Shutt & McDaniel, Harpootlian Attorneys at Law, Nelson Mullins and Rogers Lewis Attorneys at Law.

The keynote lecture on Thursday, April 19 is free, and the Friday events and luncheon are $40. Advanced registration is required as seating is limited. More information and registration is available at HistoricColumbia.org/Reconstruction. For more information, contact Historic Columbia at (803) 252-1770 x. 23 or reservations@historiccolumbia.org or the History Center at (803) 777-6172 or histcntr@mailbox.sc.edu.

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