Sewanee’s 14th Amendment symposium draws leading constitutional scholars


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By Lawrence Rogers

Staff Writer

Thursday, September 15 commenced the first day of Sewanee’s Law Symposium, a series of talks marking Tennessee’s ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. “Incorporating Equality: The First 150 Years of the Fourteenth Amendment” brought to campus a host of academic heavyweights—recipients of the Ancroft, Lincoln, Douglass, and Pulitzer prizes from such institutions as Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Yale descended upon the Domain in a flurry of free-floating intellect and undying curiosity. Over the course of three  days, professors of law and history from all over the Eastern United States discussed the historical context, political influence, and legal future of the amendment.

Professor of History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University Dr. David W. Blight delivered the first and keynote address. Blight, whose past scholarship includes Frederick Douglass’ Civil War (1989), Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2001), and American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era (2013), is currently working on a second biography of Frederick Douglass, his personal historical hero. In his talk “The Origins and Meaning of the 14th Amendment in the Civil War and Reconstruction,” Blight not only provided a historical context for the Fourteenth Amendment but also highlighted its significance in the 21st century. “I thought it was really interesting how Dr. Blight connected the original controversies surrounding the 14th Amendment’s ratification to the controversies surrounding Trump’s policies in wanting to end birthright citizenship,” said audience member Quinn Needham (C’20). Following the talk, Blight stayed in Convocation Hall to sign copies of American Oracle and speak with symposium attendees.

The next two days consisted of talks from the rest of the invited speakers and capped off Saturday morning by a roundtable discussion “Does History Matter to the Future of the 14th Amendment?” There, attendees of the symposium reviewed the themes and motifs of the previous days’ lectures and drew their own conclusions about the Fourteenth Amendment’s place in America’s past, present, and future.