Past Event

The People's Court: Law and Performance from Slavery to the Civil Rights Movement

February 29, 2024
4:10 PM - 5:30 PM
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754 Schermerhorn Extension

Law and Humanities Workshop special event. For a Zoom link or with any questions, please email Prof. Julie Peters <[email protected]>.

This talk examines a demotic tradition in African American music, folklore, and vaudeville comedy based on the jurisprudence of the police court. Looking to writers and performers ranging from Zora Neale Hurston to Dewey Markham, it finds in this tradition an alternative philosophy of law attuned to roles rather than rights, asymmetry rather than notional equality, and improvisation rather than reasoned restraint.

Bryan Wagner is Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include Disturbing the Peace: Black Culture and the Police Power after Slavery (Harvard, 2009), The Tar Baby: A Global History (Princeton, 2017), The Wild Tchoupitoulas (33 ⅓ Series, 2019), and The Life and Legend of Bras-Coupé: The Fugitive Slave Who Fought the Law, Ruled the Swamp, Danced at Congo Square, Invented Jazz, and Died for Love (LSU, 2019). He is Principal Investigator for two multidisciplinary projects in the digital humanities: Louisiana Slave Conspiracies, an interactive archive of trial manuscripts related to slave conspiracies organized at the Pointe Coupée Post in the Spanish territory of Louisiana in 1791 and 1795, and Tremé 1908, which tells the story of one year in the everyday life of an extraordinary neighborhood that was a crucible for civil rights activism, cultural fusion, and musical innovation. He is currently working on a public humanities collaboration, An Open Classroom on New Orleans Culture, with partnering organizations including Neighborhood Story Project and New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.

*DIRECTIONS to 754 Schermerhorn Extension: Schermerhorn Hall is inside the Columbia campus, just NW of 118th Street and Amsterdam. (The closest campus gate is one block south on Amsterdam). When you enter Schermerhorn Hall, do not take the elevators immediately ahead of you. To get to the Schermerhorn Extension elevators, turn right immediately on entering Schermerhorn Hall and follow the long hall to your left. You will arrive at the Extension elevators. 754 is on the 7th floor!

Co-Sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement, Columbia Law School and the Legal History Workshop, the Institute for Comparative Literature & Society (ICLS), the Lehman Center for American History, the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, the Department of English and Comparative Literature, the Columbia PhD in Theatre and Performance, and the Early American and 20th and 21st Century Americanist Colloquia.