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Tomiko Brown-Nagin

  • After revealing hard truths, Harvard’s next tough task: Defining reparations

    April 28, 2022

    Harvard University is publicly facing some brutally hard truths. A massive report, years in the making, was released this week detailing the institution’s ties to and enrichment from the enslavement of Black people. It’s full of gut-wrenching details, from the more than 70 human beings who were owned by faculty, staff, and even presidents of the university, to the remains of 15 Black people from the antebellum era found among the holdings of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, to the fact that a third of the university’s endowment from the first half of the 19th century came from donors whose fortunes were fueled by the slave trade. ... “It will bring us closer together as a community, and create deeper bonds among us,” [Tomiko Brown-Nagin] said. “I do know, obviously there are some very difficult things in the report.” But, she added, it’s also vital to note the immeasurable contributions Black and brown alumni have made to the university, Boston, and the world. “It’s important to me — I’m a civil rights historian — to have that be a theme of the report, because it’s a way of truth-telling as well, and ensuring that a broader array of graduates and individuals and communities represent Harvard,” Brown-Nagin said.

  • Harvard Details Its Ties to Slavery and Its Plans for Redress

    April 27, 2022

    In one column are the names of more than 70 enslaved people at Harvard: Venus, Juba, Cesar, Cicely. They are only first names, or sometimes no name at all — “the Moor” or “a little boy” — of people and stories that have been all but forgotten. In another column are the names of the ministers and presidents and donors of Harvard who enslaved them in the 17th and 18th centuries: Increase Mather, Gov. John Winthrop, William Brattle. These full names are so powerful and revered they still adorn buildings today. The contrasting lists are arguably the most poignant part of a 134-page report on Harvard University’s four centuries of ties to slavery and its legacy. ... Reparations “means different things to different people, so fixating on that term, I think, can be counterproductive,” Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the committee chair, a professor of both law and history, and dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, said in an interview.

  • Dual message of slavery probe: Harvard’s ties inseparable from rise, and now University must act

    April 27, 2022

    A new report shows that Harvard’s ties to slavery were transformative in the University’s rise to global prominence, and included enslaved individuals on campus, funding from donors engaged in the slave trade, and intellectual leadership that obstructed efforts to achieve racial equality. The report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, released Tuesday, describes a history that began with a Colonial-era embrace of slavery that saw 79 people enslaved by Harvard presidents and other leaders, faculty, and staff. The report offers a series of recommendations — already accepted by Harvard President Larry Bacow — that amounts to a reckoning with the University’s history. A $100 million fund established by the Harvard Corporation to implement the recommendations includes resources for current use and to establish an endowment to sustain the work in perpetuity. ... “The committee thought that it was important to lay bare the difficult aspects of Harvard’s history, but also speak to the resistance that is very much a part of Harvard’s legacy,” [Tomiko] Brown-Nagin said. “I am aware that the history we trace in this report is deeply troubling. But it would be a great disservice to our community if the only message that we took away was one of shame. We must acknowledge the harm that Harvard has done. But it is also important that we do not — as has been done in the past — bury stories of Black resistance, excellence, and leadership. These women and men are also part of our history — also part of our legacy.”

  • Revealing webs of inequities rooted in slavery, woven over centuries

    April 26, 2022

    A report issued Tuesday by a committee appointed by Harvard President Larry Bacow and led by legal scholar and historian Tomiko Brown-Nagin details the University’s deep connections to slavery in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and to legacies of slavery well into the 20th century. It also illuminates how those ties “powerfully shaped Harvard” and suggests a range of actions the University can take to help “ameliorate the persistent educational and social harms that human bondage caused to descendants, to the campus community, and to surrounding cities, the Commonwealth, and the nation.” Harvard has pledged to provide long-term funding to address the initiative’s findings. The Gazette spoke with Brown-Nagin, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, about the report and the path forward. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

  • Why Ketanji Brown Jackson and Kamala Harris idolize civil rights lawyers like Constance Baker Motley

    April 11, 2022

    As Kamala Harris made history in her speech accepting the vice presidential nomination in 2020, she broke into a broad grin as she invoked the name of her hero: Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge. Eighteen months later, Motley’s memory was summoned again, this time by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson upon her nomination to the Supreme Court. ... “It tells me she knows her history — the history of the civil rights movement,” said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a Harvard Law professor and author of “Civil Rights Queen,” a newly released biography of Motley.

  • Ketanji Brown Jackson is the beginning, not the end, of this story

    April 7, 2022

    An op-ed by Tomiko Brown-NaginDespite the toxic partisan politics displayed during the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson last month, her likely ascension to the US Supreme Court – as an eminently qualified jurist and the first African American woman justice – marks a profound and positive change in the nation’s history. In 2022, we are closer than ever to the aspiration of equal protection promised in the US Constitution and our laws, even as race and gender inequities endure in many areas of American life. This is a moment worthy of celebration. But it also invites reflection on how individual success relates to the ideal of opportunity for all.  

  • A Culinary Journey

    March 29, 2022

    Cooking Practices “can open a window into the lives of enslaved people and help us understand slavery and its legacies,” said Radcliffe Institute dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin on Thursday, introducing a talk by chef and culinary historian Michael Twitty on the intertwined history of slavery and American foodways. The event was part of the initiative on Harvard’s ties to slavery, launched by President Lawrence Bacow in 2019 and headed by Brown-Nagin. The initiative’s faculty committee will be releasing a report of its findings and recommendations next month.

  • Examining 2 days of Senate confirmation hearings for Biden’s Supreme Court nominee

    March 23, 2022

    NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute, about Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson's judicial philosophy.

  • 5 books to read this March, according to bestselling author Jasmine Guillory

    March 3, 2022

    Now that we have entered March, warm weather is right around the corner, which means you might be building a long list of books to read outside for when the sun and heat arrive. Whether you have spring break plans that involve reading on the beach or are itching to start a new book, we have recommendations for all kinds of readers. ... Best Women’s History Month read “Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality,” by Tomiko Brown-Nagin “This book is a fascinating and incredibly readable biography of a woman who shaped so much of civil rights history, and whose story is not told nearly enough,” Guillory said. “I was totally absorbed while reading this and learned so much!”

  • Jackson’s Selection Parallels First Black Woman U.S. Judge (1)

    March 1, 2022

    Ketanji Brown Jackson closed her remarks at the White House ceremony for her Supreme Court nomination by paying tribute to Constance Baker Motley, the first Black woman federal judge in U.S. history. Jackson, 51, who would make history as the Supreme Court’s first Black woman justice, noted she and Motley share a coincidental connection: They were born the same day 49 years apart. ... “One can see perhaps a parallel in the way that some are criticizing Judge Jackson’s career as a public defender–-or really her two-year stint as a public defender–-somehow implying that she is not suited to the judiciary because of that experience representing criminal defendants,” said [Tomiko] Brown-Nagin, who is dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

  • Ketanji Brown Jackson Is The First Black Woman Nominated To The Supreme Court

    February 28, 2022

    Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court fulfills a promise President Biden made while running for office: to nominate the first Black woman for the highest court. Critics said he was prioritizing identity over qualifications, but many have praised Jackson for being well equipped for what could be a historic appointment. Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, wrote a book about the first Black woman to ever become a federal judge, Constance Baker Motley. She explains how that, and much more, paved the way for this nomination.

  • In the Footsteps of Constance Motley Brown, Supreme Court Pick Ketanji Brown Jackson Makes History

    February 28, 2022

    President Biden on Friday nominated federal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill Justice Stephen Breyer’s pending vacancy. If confirmed, she would be the first Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice. We speak with Harvard constitutional law professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin about the nomination of the 51-year-old federal judge and the parallels between her and the first Black woman federal judge and civil rights legal icon Constance Baker Motley, who was at one point eyed for a Supreme Court nomination.

  • A Black lawyer who dismantled barriers, for herself and many others

    February 25, 2022

    From 1946 to the 1960s, Constance Baker Motley was the sole woman on the small team of lawyers waging an insurgent challenge to the South’s racial caste system and laying the foundation for the civil rights revolution that transformed American life. The first Black woman appointed to a federal judgeship, in 1966, Motley’s rulings advanced the rights of women, gays and lesbians, prisoners, and the homeless. In “Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality,” Tomiko Brown-Nagin recovers the story of this pioneering lawyer and jurist and invites a fresh consideration of the civil rights movement and the nature of its achievements.

  • ‘Civil Rights Queen’ examines the legacy of Constance Baker Motley

    February 18, 2022

    As President Biden prepares to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, we revisit another historic first. Constance Baker Motley was the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary and the first to argue before the Supreme Court. Harvard law professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin joins Nicole Ellis to discuss her new book on Motley's life and legacy called, "Civil Rights Queen."

  • Often overlooked, civil rights advocate Constance Baker Motley gets her due

    February 17, 2022

    In Civil Rights Queen, author Tomiko Brown-Nagin profiles Motley, a Black woman who wrote the original complaint in Brown v. The Board of Education and was on Martin Luther King's legal team.

  • Zoom screen with three women and one man

    Constance Baker Motley

    February 15, 2022

    Georgetown Law Professor Sheryll Cashin ’89 once asked her mentor, Thurgood Marshall, why he had passed over Constance Baker Motley to succeed him when he…

  • In Supreme Court Nomination Debate, Echoes of Past Judicial Breakthrough

    February 11, 2022

    When President Biden announced that he would nominate a Black woman—the Supreme Court's first—to the seat that will be vacated by retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, criticism from some on the right began almost immediately. Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said it was "racist" to consider only Black women for the post, and Biden's decision was "insulting to African-American women." The conversation about identity and qualifications echoes some of the questions that arose when another breakthrough appointment was announced more than 50 years ago. ... Tomiko Brown-Nagin, dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and author of Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle For Equality, discusses Motley's nomination and her career. She says Motley supported the appointment of women and people of color to the federal judiciary as a way to strengthen the institution.

  • Transcript: Race in America: History Matters with Tomiko Brown-Nagin

    February 11, 2022

    MS. COLVIN: Hello, and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Rhonda Colvin, one of our Capitol Hill reporters. And today we're speaking with Tomiko Brown‑Nagin. She just authored a book on Constance Baker Motley, and the title of that book is "Civil Rights Queen:"‑‑the story of‑‑"Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality." And this is part of our series and the contribution that Black women have made to American history. So we thank you, Tomiko, for joining us today. MS. BROWN‑NAGIN: Thank you for having me. I'm delighted to be here.

  • A Black woman on the High Court is a good start. But representation has limits.

    February 10, 2022

    The history of Black women and the law is, until relatively recently, "a history of impressive firsts," according to Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a professor of law and history at Harvard. There's Charlotte Ray, the first Black woman lawyer and a graduate of Howard law school. There's Jane Bolin, the first Black woman judge in the United States. There's Pauli Murray, who coined the term Jane Crow, and whose legal arguments laid the groundwork for desegregating public schools and extending the rights of women and LGQTB people. Murray was the first Black person to earn a JSD from Yale Law, and the first Black person perceived as a woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest.

  • Black women in the legal profession reflect on how long it’s taken to get this far

    February 8, 2022

    ARI SHAPIRO, HOST: President Biden has promised to nominate a Black woman to fill retiring Justice Stephen Breyer's seat on the Supreme Court. That historic first has Black women in the legal profession reflecting on how long it's taken to get this far. NPR's Sandhya Dirks reports. ... TOMIKO BROWN-NAGIN: If we can get to a point where it's not so significant that a Black woman is appointed to some prestigious position, then we will have come closer to the dream of equality that so many civil rights activists and lawyers fought for for so many years.

  • Jane Goodall on surviving trying times

    February 7, 2022

    Jane Goodall, the renowned naturalist who revolutionized views of animal behavior with her 60-year study of chimps, has turned her attention to a unique aspect of human nature: hope. ... What books are you recommending for Black History Month? “Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality,” by Tomiko Brown-Nagin. “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.,” edited by James M. Washington. “México’s Nobodies: The Cultural Legacy of the Soldadera and Afro-Mexican Women,” by B. Christine Arce.