Alumnus David Addison '70 headlines Black Alumni Reunion Luncheon

Monday, November 17, 2008

The University of Illinois campus hosted hundreds of returning alumni, friends, and guests during the weekend of November 6-9 as part of  Black Alumni Reunion Weekend commemorating and celebrating Project 500. The College of Law and the Black Law Students Association took a leadership role in the weekend festivities, including hosting a  Black Alumni Reunion Luncheon on November 8 in the Peer and Sarah Pedersen Pavilion. The outstanding keynote address during the luncheon was delivered by David Addison '70, a member of the College's Board of Visitors.

David Addison was born in Charleston, South Carolina to George and Louise Addison, two children of slaves on a plantation on the Gullah Island of St. John. His parents migrated to New York City with his two siblings when David was eight years old. He was raised in St. Albans, New York and attending public schools. Shortly after graduating from high school, Mr. Addison enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Following his inauguration, President John F. Kennedy ordered the integration of his honor guard and Mr. Addison was selected as the first African-American to serve in this role. He was assigned to the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington, D.C., serving for more than two years before being assigned as a technical advisor in Southeast Asia.

Following his discharge, Mr. Addison enrolled at Florida A&M University, majoring in Political Science and Economics and graduating summa cum laude. During this time, he was an active member in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participated in voter registration drives in North Florida, the Mississippi Delta, Georgia, and Alabama.

In 1967, he entered the College of Law at the University of Illinois and received his juris doctor degree in 1970. He was elected president of the Black Students Association in the Spring of 1968 during a time when African-American students became involved in demonstrations at the University to increase the number of African-American students. This effort became known as Project 500. Mr. Addison was also the co-founder of the Black Law Students Association at the College of Law and was honored by BLSA at its annual banquet in 2007.

Upon graduation from Illinois, Mr. Addison returned to New York to join Paul, Weiss, and Rifkind. He then served as Deputy General Counsel for the Attica Commission, as an assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia, and a partner with the firm of Hamilton, Addison, Ashton, and Moore with offices in New York, Jamaica, West Indies, and Lagos, Nigeria.

Mr. Addison is a former Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at Howard University and has held adjunct appointments at The City University of New York, Rutgers University, and Amherst College. As an educator, he has spent the past 15 years working closely with at-risk youth in New York City and Palm Beach, Florida. He is an Ethics Trainer and a member of the Institute for Global Ethics. He has also served as a member of the Character Committee of the United States Office of Education and currently serves on the Board of Visitors of the College of Law.

Remarks by Ebony Reid, President of the University of Illinois Black Law Students Association, College of Law Project 500 Luncheon, November 8, 2008 -- "Good afternoon, to Dean Brubaker, the College of Law faculty, administration, students, alumni, and distinguished guests I bring you greetings from the University of Illinois Black Law Students Association.  I am honored to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Project 500.  As I thought about what I would address in my short time with you, I could not help but think about change.  For the last few months, we have been inundated with messages about hope and change, but I believe that it is truly change that has the power to shape our country for the better.  Throughout history, change has been an effective mechanism in improving the lot of our country's greatest asset-its people.  So, there is power in change.  Those who have the greatest opportunity to affect change are those who have earned the title of attorney.  History tells us that often attorneys effectively bring about change. 

In 1861, John S. Rock, a teacher, dentist, and physician defied history and added yet another profession to his impressive record by becoming the first Black attorney in the United States.  On February 1, 1865, Charles Sumner introduced a motion that made Rock the first black attorney to be admitted to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court.  This was the very same day that Congress approved the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery.  In regards to Rock's momentous occasion, a New York Tribune reporter wrote:

 "The grave to bury the Dred Scott decision was in that one sentence dug; and it yawned there, wide open, under the very eyes of some of the judges who had participated in the judicial crime against Democracy and humanity.  The assenting nod of the great head  of the Chief Justice tumbled in course and filled up the pit, and the black counselor of the Supreme Court got on to it and stamped it down and smoothed the earth to his walk to the rolls of the Court."

The power of change

In 1872, Charlotte Ray, a Howard University Law school graduate, became the first black woman admitted to the bar.  She opened her own law practice in Washington D.C., but both racial and gender prejudice worked against her.  Despite her inability to work as a lawyer, Ray worked for women's suffrage and encouraged other Black women to study law. 

The power of change

In 1907, Amos Potter Scruggs became the first black student to receive a law degree from the University of Illinois.  He argued 13 cases before the Illinois Supreme Court, including a reversal of a criminal conviction of a black man.  Thereafter, he became a member of the State's Attorney staff.

The power of change

In 1933, Thurgood Marshall received his law degree from Howard University where he graduated first in his class.  After retiring from private practice, Marshall began working for the NAACP.  It seems that he was destined to use his skills to chip away at the implications of Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Supreme Court held that separate is equal.  In his first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson, Marshall argued that the University of Maryland's law school's policy of not admitting black students was not equal treatment under the law.  Marshall himself had been denied admission to the University of Maryland.  He had expected to appeal this case in federal court; however, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled against Maryland and stated that: "Compliance with the Constitution cannot be deferred at the will of the state. Whatever system is adopted for legal education now must furnish equality of treatment now."  Marshall went on to win 29 out of the 32 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court. 

On May 17, 1954, his most important and famous case, Brown v. Board of Education was decided.  In this landmark and unanimous decision the highest court in this country ruled that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. 

On June 13, 1967, President Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court making him the first African American to serve on the Court. 

The power of change

A few moments ago I mentioned Amos Potter Scruggs, the first African American graduate of our very own College of Law.  In a 1908 prophetic speech he said: 

 "The negro, since emancipation, has made himself generally useful in every walk of life excepting two: president of the United States and governor of a state. But senators, representatives, foreign ministers, state legislators and many other positions of honor he has filled with credit and dignity.  Prejudice, disrespect for law, malice, hatred and ill will . . .never solved and never will solve the race problems. No race can be judged by its worst characters. An individual of any race should be given credit for his personal acquirements and ability."

Well, how moved and proud Amos Potter Scruggs would have been if he had lived 100 years more and witnessed what happened on November 4, 2008?  This past Tuesday an attorney was entrusted with the most challenging profession in the world.  This past Tuesday, a vast majority of Americans put aside their biases, prejudices, fears, and apprehensions and decided to vote based upon ideals that made sense to them, hope, and most importantly they voted for change.  Americans voted for a Harvard Law graduate who served as President of Harvard Law Review.  They voted for the fifth African American in U.S. History to be elected as a U.S. Senator.  It is estimated that over 120 million Americans voted in this landmark presidential election.  And despite a system which was not prepared to accommodate the large voter turnout, Americans spoke clearly when they elected Barack Obama the 44th president and the first African American to be President of the United States.  He won the most votes of any President in U.S. History.  In his speech on Tuesday night, President-elect Obama said: "The victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change."

Project 500 was about change for the University of Illinois and as we celebrate its inception we need to be cognizant that more work is to be done, so I challenge each and every one of you in your capacity as attorneys and future attorneys to be a catalyst for change because history tells us that it is not only our obligation but our duty to our profession.  Sir Walter Scott, a poet, historian, and Scottish novelist once said: 

"A lawyer without history or literature is a mechanic, a mere working mason; if he possesses some knowledge of these, he may venture to call himself an architect."

Once again welcome to the College of Law and welcome back to the College of Law as we celebrate forty years of Project 500.  Thank you.