Angela Davis speaks at HLS


On Monday April 25, 2005, Professor Ogletree hosted and moderated the inaugural program of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice of Harvard Law School, “The Angela Davis Trial: 33 Years Later.” The program, which took place at the Ames Moot Courtroom, began with a dramatic presentation by Angela Eisa Davis, the daughter of Fania Davis, and niece of Angela Davis. Angela Eisa Davis, who goes by Eisa, is a graduate of Harvard College and was born the day Angela Davis was finally caught by the FBI. Eisa Davis led the crowd in song and presented her one act play written to commemorate the acquittal of her aunt.

Following the performance, Professor Angela Davis gave a twenty minute personal account of the events that led to her trial, including how she was able to avoid capture by the FBI for over a year. Angela Davis also discussed her views about the trial, the political climate, and the result of the acquittal in 1972. After Professor Davis’ presentation, Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. moderated a panel of all of the lawyers and family members of Angela Davis who participated in the trial, from the early period following her arrest in 1971 through the pre-trial and trial proceedings. The lawyers on the panel included Leo Branton, Jr., Doris Brin Walker, Professor Margaret Burnham, Fania Davis, and Barbara Ratliff.

Professor Ogletree’s discussion with the lawyers included the important pre-trial motions, change of venue arguments, and early challenges to the judge. He also touched on the issue of the death penalty. The prosecution was originally seeking the death penalty for Angela Davis until it was ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in People v. Anderson. Finally, the lawyers discussed eye witness identification in a criminal case, dealing with the issue of Angela’s flight, communism, and whether or not Angela Davis was going to testify. Throughout the presentation, Professor Ogletree solicited thoughts and stories of Angela Davis’ family members who were also on the panel. Ben Davis and Reggie Davis, Angela Davis’ brothers, talked about how the trial changed their lives and brought the entire family closer.

One of the highlights of the event was Leo Branton’s reenactment of his closing statement to the jury, where he asked an all-white jury to “imagine they were Black” as a device to explain Angela Davis’ flight. Professor Ogletree, who was a student at Stanford University during the trial, shared many stories with the audience on how he attended the trial everyday and how the students on his campus were organizing Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners. The event ended with questions from the audience and a standing ovation for the lawyers and Angela Davis.

Leo Branton was one was the first Black entertainment lawyer in California. He represented such notable clients as Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jimi Hendrix. Doris Walker was the only woman in her class and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Boalt Hall in the late 1940s. Attorney Walker was the resident communist on the legal team. Professor Burnham, who left the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to work on the Angela Davis trial, currently teaches at Northeastern University and was a childhood friend of Angela Davis. Fania Davis, who is Angela Davis’ younger sister, is also a Boalt Hall graduate and a practicing civil rights lawyer in Oakland, California. Barbara Ratliff, who is a Yale Law School graduate, served as a law clerk to Howard Moore during the Davis Trial. Howard Moore, who was also an instrumental lawyer on this “dream team,” was unfortunately not able to participate in this panel.

Gender discrepancies at the law school submitted by The Women and Risk Reading Group: Eric Boorstin, Antonia Floyd, Colleen O’Brien, Kimberly Ruthsatz, Marie Scott, and Alithea Zymaris, with Joni Hersch

In January, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers put forth three hypotheses as to why there are disparities between men and women in high-end positions in the scientific professions. Two of his proposed hypotheses are relatively uncontroversial ideas. He suggested that perhaps women remove themselves from high power job pools for personal reasons, or that perhaps women are discriminated against in the job application pool. It was the third proposal, that men and women have innately different aptitudes to perform on the extreme high end of the scientific professions, which raised a storm of controversy. Since his speech, discussion and debate over Summers’s remarks has thundered through the media and the classroom.

Three months have passed since Summers delivered the controversial conference address, yet the debate over the possibility of an inherent disparity in aptitude between men and women rages on. This is not surprising given the intriguing and important nature of the questions posed by the debate. Do men and women have inherently different aptitudes? Are men and women different in other important ways? And even if inherent differences between men and women do exist, what difference does it make?

One suggestion posed by some scholars is that women are more risk averse then men, and by preferring safer rather than riskier ventures in a variety of life avenues are less likely to achieve the greater success associated with greater risk. A recent survey conducted by the Women and Risk Reading Group led by Joni Hersch investigated differences in risk preferences and in other characteristics in the context of Harvard Law School first-year student experiences. If men and women differ in their risk aversion or other important respects, what effect does that risk preference actually have on the respective law school experiences of men and women?

The survey was completed online by 355 first-year students. This survey revealed few substantial (or statistically significant) differences in the law school experience of Harvard men and women. The amount of academic work put in by students outside the classroom is nearly identical. Men and women estimate that they study a similar number of hours per week (approximately 19 for women and 21 for men), do almost or all of their reading (with 58 percent of the women and 54 percent of the men doing all of the reading), and attend class in roughly the same proportions (18 percent of the women and 23 percent of the men never missing class). Men and women traveled approximately the same distances from their hometowns to go to college, and the same distances to come to law school. Similar percentages of men and women took out loans to support their law school education and both have highly educated parents. Men and women applied for similar numbers of summer jobs (24 for men and 20 for women). Finally, there was no difference in risk preferences for financial risk taking revealed by the survey. Students of both sexes preferred the lottery that would give them the chance to win one of four $50 gift certificates, rather than any of the available higher risk, higher payoff options.

The areas in which significant statistical differences in the law school experiences of men and women did exist were not surprising given other research into this topic. Men were significantly more likely to say they would apply to join Harvard Law Review, with 46 percent of men saying they intended to participate in the law review competition as compared to 33 percent of women. Many more women intend to work in public interest positions after graduations, with 18 percent of women planning on this career option as opposed to 7 percent of men.

One of the biggest gender discrepancies to appear in the survey results was the reason for choosing not to participate in class.

The disparity in reason for failing to participate in class may bode poorly for professional success if women appear less confident in professional situations. Otherwise, the survey provides a picture of the first-year experience that is substantially the same for all students regardless of gender. Of course, HLS students are a self-selected gr
oup. But so too are all of the highly educated men and women in the sciences and the professions.