Slavery case re-enacted

February 9, 2010
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Today's post is from IL reporter Rebecca Berfanger: 

Braving the cold and snow, a group of about 15 eighth graders from Indianapolis Public School’s Cold Spring School 315 participated in a re-enactment of the trial of Polly Strong, a 24-year-old woman who fought for – and won – her freedom in 1820 following a decision by the Indiana Supreme Court.

The decision overturned a Knox Circuit Court decision that Col. Hyacinth Lasselle could own Strong, her mother, and brother as his slaves, even though the Indiana Constitution outlawed slavery in 1816.

About 200 more students in grades 4 through 12 were expected for two scheduled performances, but the other schools were unable to attend because of weather conditions. Only one performance took place around 12:30 p.m. at the Indiana Supreme Court, following the students’ tour of the Indiana Statehouse.

For those classes and anyone else who couldn’t make it today, there’s a webcast of the production on the court’s Web site. The site also includes links to documents that were used to put the presentation together, including court documents from Knox County and the Supreme Court’s opinion in the case of State vs. Lasselle.

Students portrayed the various roles in the production, including Indiana Supreme Court Justices Isaac Blackford, James Scott, and Jesse Holman; Strong’s mother, Jenny; brother, James; Lasselle; and lawyers for both sides.

Indianapolis native Veronique Briscoe-Beuoy, a 2L at Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law, passionately played Strong. She said she was happy to travel three hours each way to perform the role. Readers might recognize her name because she was part of an Indiana Lawyer article about interns who worked for Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic last summer.

Usually, the courtroom is at capacity during performances like this one, said Elizabeth Osborn, who oversees the Courts in the Classroom program. She added it was unusual to have every student receive a part to play.

All members of the audience participated – a court staff member prompted them with signs that said “applause,” “yes,” and “no,” depending on who was speaking. At least one audience member – without prompting from a sign – booed Lasselle.

Briscoe-Beuoy and Osborn answered insightful questions from members of the audience at the end.

It was heartening to see that the students took such an interest in the trial and remained serious about their roles, even if it meant they were in costume – the lawyers and Lasselle wore bowler hats and the judges wore robes, of course – and even though most weren’t aware they’d have a role to play until they arrived.

Hopefully the weather won’t deter other classes from attending future Courts in the Classroom presentations, which are open to the public.
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  1. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  2. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  3. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  4. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  5. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

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