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Law school hosts attorney who helped write 'I Have a Dream' speech

1.24.2013

By Dateline staff

The School of Law, which occupies a building named after Martin Luther King Jr., is hosting an author and attorney who has his own connection to the slain civil rights leader: as counsel and speechwriter who helped compose King’s “I Have a Dream” speech nearly 50 years ago.

Photo: Clarence B. Jones

Jones

Clarence B. Jones is the keynote speaker for “Remembering Our Roots: Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at King Hall,” organized by law student Fabiola Larios with support from other students and faculty.

The program, free and open to the public, is scheduled to begin at noon Monday, Feb. 4., at the Conference Center.

The program also includes remarks by Dean Kevin R. Johnson and law professor emeritus Cruz Reynoso, a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court.

'Strengthening our commitment'

Larios, who chose to attend the UC Davis law school in part because of its connection to King, started working with faculty and student groups last year to build support for an event to be held during the 50th anniversary year of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech (delivered Aug. 28, 1963, during the March on Washington).

“I wanted to create an event that would remind us of our roots, bring history to life, and strengthen our commitment at UC Davis School of Law to the legacy of Dr. King and all those who contributed to the civil rights movement,” Larios said.

“I hope that remembering their struggles will help to inspire a new generation of students and activists to continue to push to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.”

King was assassinated April 4, 1968, as the law school wrapped up its second year of instruction, and before the completion of the building that would become the school's home. His death had an immediate and profound impact on students and faculty, who were actively involved in the legal, political and social debates of the time.

In asking administrators to name the new building after King, students and faculty both honored him and dedicated the school to his ideals of public service and social justice.

Just over a year later, on April 12, 1969, the campus dedicated Martin Luther King Jr. Hall in a ceremony that included a speech by former California Gov. Earl Warren, then chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Heartfelt letter brings 'yes' from Jones

Dean Johnson suggested Jones as the keynote speaker, and Larios sent a heartfelt letter that convinced the much-in-demand lecturer to say “yes.”

During the 1960s, Jones had a lasting impact on the course of U.S. history through his work with King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The attorney coordinated a successful legal defense of King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in lawsuits filed by city officials of Birmingham, Ala. This legal fight led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Sullivan v. The New York Times — a decision that set legal standards for libel.

In addition, Jones drafted the settlement agreement between King and the city of Birmingham that ended demonstrations and desegregated the city’s department stores and public accommodations.

Jones is the author of What Would Martin Say? and Behind the Dream: The Making of a Speech that Transformed the Nation.

He has received numerous honors for his contributions to American culture, including four honorary doctorates and a letter of commendation from then-President Bill Clinton.

Jones holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and a law degree from Boston University.

Today, he is a scholar writer in residence and visiting professor at the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, and the College of Arts and Sciences, University of San Francisco.

Joe Martin, senior writer, School of Law, contributed to this report.


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