Marilyn Ward Ford is the Neil Cogan Public Service Professor of Law. A faculty member since 1979, she teaches courses in securities regulation, business organizations, corporate finance, and Native American law.

Her areas of research include civil rights, Native American land claim issues, and corporate law. Before coming to the School of Law, she worked as an attorney with a Wall Street law firm and for an integrated, worldwide energy company. At the School of Law, she is adviser to the Black Law Student Association and the Latin American Law Student Association. She also works with the Women’s Law Society. Her personal interests include reading, traveling, and shopping

Speaker tells Westport crowd King's dream

is challenged by racial climate

Westport News Article

by Jarret Liotta, January 18, 2016

In a speech combining powerful examples drawn from recent tragedies, lightened by touches of humor, Marilyn Ford, a law professor who keynoted the town’s annual tribute to civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., underscored the distance that remains for America to fully achieve King’s dream of racial equality and justice.

The event, hosted at the Westport Country Playhouse, drew a nearly full house Sunday to celebrate King’s legacy on the eve of the national holiday held in his memory. The event was co-sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Westport and Weston, TEAM Westport and, for the first time, the playhouse.

Ford, the Neil Cogan Public Service Professor of Law at Quinnipiac University, has researched civil rights, Native American land claim issues and corporate law. At Quinnipiac’s Law School, she is an adviser to the Black Law Student Association and the Latin American Law Student Association, and also works with the Women’s Law Society.

“The end of segregation benefited everybody,” Ford said, noting that even while blacks couldn’t use “White Only” bathrooms in the segregationist South, likewise whites weren’t allowed in “Blacks Only” bathrooms, “because if you gotta go, you gotta go,” she said, eliciting laughs, adding that perhaps in the future public bathrooms won’t be designated only for males or females either, a reference to growing discussion over transgender rights.

But Ford, who serves as secretary for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — King was the group’s first president — turned serious as she reviewed the current state of civil rights, particularly focusing on the justice system. “Statistics show that there are two faces of justice … and that blacks are punished more severely than whites,” she said, highlighting that more than $60 billion is spent annually on prisons in the U.S.

“One-third of all young black men (in the U.S.) will be confined to prison at least time in their life,” she said, six times more likely than young white males. Ford explained that the historic fiscal inequity between black and white Americans was partially to blame, which she said is the trickle-down result of segregationist Jim Crow laws, some of which had initially been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“How in the world did this young country become such a segregated place?” she asked. “It was by the action of our own United States Supreme Court,” citing both Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857, and Plessy v. Ferguson in the late 19th Century, which Ford said, “gave a ringing endorsement to public segregation … We know that it was separate, but in no way was it equal.”

Ford recounted several key events as pivotal to igniting the civil-rights movement in the 1950s, including Brown v. the Board of Education that officially overturned school segregation; the boycott of buses in Montgomery, Al., in 1955, and the Little Rock Nine, the group of black students who first the first to desegregate that Arkansas city’s high school in 1957.

“They suffered consequences for their actions, both blacks and whites,” Ford said, noting the series of rapes, beatings, arrests and convictions suffered by people who engaged in peaceful protests of the racist policies at the time. “Some of these activists, black and white, were even killed in the struggles.”

Ford said what followed the murder by lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 after he was supposedly flirted with a 21-year-old white woman while visiting relatives in Mississippi, was one of the most impactful events in launching the civil-rights movement. The boy’s mother, Mamie Till, in an effort to demonstrate the brutality of what happened, insisted on an open-coffin funeral back in Chicago, which received national coverage from black media and then spread to other outlets.

“She definitely challenged the viciousness of racism when she defied those who asked her to close the casket at Emmett Till’s funeral,” Ford explained, quoting her as saying, “ ‘I want the world to see what racism and what the results of racism can be.’ ”

“Mamie Till and all the others acted as they did because they wanted to be leaders,” she said, noting that the rise of the movement had a direct impact on growing demands for equal rights by other minority groups, including Native Americans, women, the disabled people, and gay men and lesbians.

“It continues today,” she said. “We have different civil rights issues today,” including economic inequity, disparities in education and employment opportunities, and more.

“This has been a very trying time these last couple of years in race relations in this country,” the Rev. Ed. Horne, minister of the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston, told the gathering. “Some old wounds have been opened and some new ones have been created.”

But Ford ended her speech on a note of hope, citing a new generation of civil-rights leaders coming of age in places like Ferguson, Mo., where controversy erupted after the police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old in 2014. There, she said, efforts are being made to involve minorities more actively in the political system and particularly the police force.

“I guess they’re doing what Dr. King envisioned … They are taking on the challenges of today.”

However, Ford closed with an ominous question about the future of the re-awakened movement: “Will they be living out the dream, or will they be experiencing a nightmare?”

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