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. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  3. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

  4. Duncan, It's called the RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION and in the old days people believed it did apply to contracts and employment. Then along came title vii.....that aside, I believe that I am free to work or not work for whomever I like regardless: I don't need a law to tell me I'm free. The day I really am compelled to ignore all the facts of social reality in my associations and I blithely go along with it, I'll be a slave of the state. That day is not today......... in the meantime this proposed bill would probably be violative of 18 usc sec 1981 that prohibits discrimination in contracts... a law violated regularly because who could ever really expect to enforce it along the millions of contracts made in the marketplace daily? Some of these so-called civil rights laws are unenforceable and unjust Utopian Social Engineering. Forcing people to love each other will never work.

  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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