Megan Rose Dickey / Contributing Writer
The Cumberland School of Law at Samford University hosted its 26th annual Thurgood Marshall Symposium on Feb. 20. The theme this year was Overcoming Being Underestimated.
Thurgood Marshall was an attorney who argued in 32 famous civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, more than anyone else in history. In 1967, President Johnson nominated Marshall to be the first African-American Justice on the Supreme Court. While only 7 percent of practicing attorneys in Alabama are African Americans, Marshall helped pave the way for more inclusion over the years.
“Without Marshall’s tenacity, zeal and passion for justice, we could not have walked through these halls,” Cumberland graduate Hillaire Armstrong said.
At the symposium, Cumberland’s Black Law Students Association chapter and the Black Students Union collaborated to celebrate Marshall’s accomplishments and for helping to advance America’s black communities. These two groups plan to further honor Marshall by providing information about legal issues facing minorities. Regina Edwards, U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Kentucky, was the keynote speaker. She discussed Marshall’s legacy and the relevance of his principles to Americans’ everyday lives.
Samford BSU President Theo Edwards-Butler introduced the keynote speaker. Theo is the daughter of Edwards and said that her mother is the first and only African-American federal judge in Kentucky.
“My mother is making black history,” Butler said.
Edwards commenced her speech with the idea of a Triple Threat. Edwards had three obstacles to overcome in her career as a black woman from rural Eastern Kentucky. Edwards experienced stereotypes and lower expectations as an African American woman.
Edwards mentioned a meeting she had with a guidance counselor in high school. Her guidance counselor believed she should lower her aspirations of pursuing higher education as a young African American woman. Edwards related her struggles to those of Justice Marshall, who also faced many obstacles on his path to becoming a prominent lawyer and then a Supreme Court Justice. Many of the struggles were not just external but internal feelings of struggle.
Edwards defines her time at law school as a period of self-doubt. Edwards had to challenge herself to overcome this doubt. Edwards said she believes everyone has a unique voice that adds to the school community, that everyone can challenge their internal fears by not holding back when an opportunity presents itself.
“My uniqueness is an attribute, not an albatross,” Edwards said.
The President of the Cumberland BLSA presented a wide array of gifts to Edwards and congratulated her on her accomplishments and speech.
The BSLA and BSU are already making plans to host the next year’s Thurgood Marshall Symposium and will continue promoting the African American presence in the U.S. ‘s law community.