Maribel Morey, PhD candidate, History

Reflections on Little Rock, 1957-1959: Writing as a Fellow Traveler of the Legal Process School

Mon, 03/24/2008
4:30-6 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall
Event Category: 
Graduate Students

In this week's LEGS seminar, Maribel Morey will present her paper, "Reflections on Little Rock, 1957-1959: Writing as a Fellow Traveler of the Legal Process School." Join us for an interesting discussion.


Inspired by a photograph of one of the "Little Rock Nine" students surrounded by a screaming mob of segregationists, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) drafted her "Reflections on Little Rock" in the fall of 1957. She criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the federal government’s use of troops to enforce the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Wondering how a photograph of a victimized black student would lead Arendt to side with segregationists’ claims in favor of states’ rights, I have compared Arendt’s discussion of Little Rock with the debates between and among legal scholars and political actors of the late 1950s. I argue that Arendt's "Reflections" is best understood as an example of postwar legal formalism; her style of argumentation echoing that of the Legal Process School of the 1950s.

Arendt writes in her "Reflections on Little Rock," that neither the federal nor state government should interfere with an individual’s right to free association in the social realm. With this neutral principle in mind, she "dipped into" the political debate of the time between the federal government and state-level political leaders— between federal supremacy and state sovereignty—and sided with those parents who were protecting their rights to free association by fighting against federal intrusion in Little Rock. Arendt sought to explain how, by yielding to segregationist parents’ rights to free association, the structure of the Republic could be preserved, and how the violent episode exposed in the picture could have been avoided.

Maribel Morey is a second year graduate student in the History Department at Princeton University where she focuses on twentieth century U.S. and European intellectual history, and legal history. Currently, she is focusing on the intellectual strands of the so-called “race problem” and the “woman problem” in the U.S. during the 1930s, and their corresponding legal solutions in the 1950s-1970s. At the center of her narrative is Gunnar Myrdal’s "An American Dilemma" (1944). With a similar focus on race in the mid-twentieth century, earlier last year she wrote "Hannah Arendt’s Reflections on Little Rock, 1957-59: Echoing Academic Critiques of Brown, and (Somewhat Unwillingly) Legitimizing Segregationist Claims for State Sovereignty," which she presented at the Hanna Arendt and Little Rock Symposium at Princeton University. (available here. For more on Maribel, see her LAPA profile.