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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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