Federal judge to visit Marshall as part of Amicus Curiae Lecture Series

The 100 years it took to open the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a topic of discussion for a federal judge when he speaks Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. in Marshall University’s Brad D. Smith Foundation Hall.

Judge Robert L. Wilkins of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will be the first speaker of the spring 2019 season of Marshall’s Amicus Curiae Lecture Series on Constitutional Democracy, a series which will also include lectures on populist authoritarianism, the role of the west in American history and the “problem of democracy.”

During his lecture, entitled “A Journey Down the Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100-Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African-American History and Culture,” Wilkins will tell a “surprisingly complicated story,” said Patricia Proctor, director of the Simon Perry Center for Constitutional Democracy and the Amicus Curiae Lecture Series on Constitutional Democracy.

“The reason he’s coming to talk with us is because he played a critical role in bringing to fruition the National Museum of African American History and Culture,” Proctor said. “He’s written a book about the fact that, from the time it was proposed to when it opened up in September of 2016, it took 100 years of various obstacles being placed in the way of this museum actually existing and this museum coming into existence.”

Proctor said a lot of “bad” and “discriminatory” things happened in those 100 years, such as Jim Crow laws and lynching’s. She said the United States has had a complicated history of race relations, which Wilkins discusses in his book, and Wilkins sees the museum as something that people can coalesce around and unify around and appreciate its history, putting it in perspective to move forward and make the United States a better place.

“Why should it have taken 100 years after this very worthwhile museum was first proposed for it to have come into being? What does that tell us about our culture and our society that this could have been such a long road?” Proctor said. “The museum has been tremendously important in recognizing a huge part of our country’s past, and unless you understand things that have happened in history and in the past, I think it’s very difficult to understand our culture today.”

Robert Bookwalter, dean of Marshall’s College of Liberal Arts, said the Amicus Curiae Lecture Series brings “high quality experts from a variety of fields” to Marshall. He said students who are already getting a “fantastic education” from Marshall’s faculty can then benefit from “the outstanding faculty and authors and thinkers and policy makers from around the country.”

“Because we have Robert Wilkins coming to talk about the National Museum of African American History and Culture, they can gain a tremendous insight into our racial history, the history of the United States, the history of Washington D.C., the history of our culture, of race relations and of how we understand the challenges that have confronted our society with regard to race and the recognition and appreciation of the contributions of African Americans,” Bookwaltersaid.

Bookwalter said Wilkins has significant credentials, which also benefits students.

“He served as an attorney in the District of Columbia, he was a partner in a law firm, he served as a judge and he worked on the Presidential Commissionto establish the museum,” Bookwalter said. “So, he has a depth and breadth of experience that most people we see don’t have. He’s one of the most accomplished people that some of our students will ever meet.”

Proctor said it is much to the credit of Burnis Morris, director of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Lyceum, that Wilkins is coming, as Morris was the one who first heard the speaker and asked her if she would want to co-sponsor the lecture with him. Proctor said though most of the lectures in the series are sponsored by the Simon Perry Center for Constitutional Democracy, this particular lecture is sponsored by both the Simon Perry Center for Constitutional Democracy and the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Lyceum and is also part of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson programming for Black History Month.

Proctor said she is excited to have Wilkins come to Marshall and expects him to be an interesting speaker.

“I expect he’s going to be a dynamic and interesting speaker and that he’s going to share stories with us that we will be so glad to hear and to know,” Proctor said. “I’m very excited that he’s coming. I’m excited that Professor Morris facilitated this opportunity for us to have Judge Wilkins at Marshall.”

Proctor said following the lecture, audience members will be given the opportunity to ask Wilkins questions. She said Wilkins will also be selling copies of his book, “Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100-Year Mission to Create the National Museum of African American History and Culture,” following the lecture.

Future dates, speakers and topics in spring 2019 for the Amicus Curiae Lecture Series are as follows:

March 6— Jan-Werner Müller: “Populist Authoritarianism: What Can Be Done?”

April 11— Heather Cox Richardson: “How the South Won the Civil War: the Role of the West in American History”

April 25— Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg: “The Problem of Democracy”

More information about the series as a whole and individual lectures can be found at https://www.marshall.edu/spc/amicus-curiae-lecture-series-on-constitutional-democracy/.

Jesten Richardson can be contacted at [email protected].