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Civil rights era takes center stage at ABA global conference

A keynote program on the U.S. civil rights era might seem surprising at an American Bar Association Section of International Law meeting. But perhaps not when its theme is “Other Voices in Private and Public International Law.”

At the SIL Annual Conference April 9-12 in Washington, D.C., Attallah Shabazz, the eldest of six daughters of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, and Christopher W. Schmidt, a lawyer-author who wrote a book on the initial student sit-in in 1960, provided insights about an era that helped shape world history and accelerate the U.S. civil rights movement.

Shabazz, ambassador-at-large representing Belize, said she “knew my father as a father” and recalled when he arrived home, “rage did not enter the front door of the house; it was resolve.”

Malcolm X was killed in 1965 in New York when Shabazz was 6 years old. Her father attracted crowds and controversy, and in 1959 was featured in a week-long television special with Mike Wallace, called “The Hate That Hate Produced.” The program explored the fundamentals of the Nation of Islam, and tracked Malcolm’s emergence as one of its most important leaders.

Shabazz has spent more than 38 years developing culturally diverse curriculums and programs for a variety of institutions. She describes herself as “an advocate” rather than an “activist.” Similarly, she said, “my father was not a revolutionary; he was an evolutionary.”

Also at the April 10 luncheon program, Schmidt, professor and associate dean at Chicago-Kent College of Law, outlined his 2018 book, “The Sit-Ins: Protest and Legal Change in the Civil Rights Era.” The book provides an analysis of the famous 1960 lunch-counter protests initiated by four black college students in the Woolworth department store in Greensboro, N.C.

“They just got tired of talking and decided to do something,” Schmidt said of the first sit-in on Feb. 1, which inspired a wave of similar sit-ins across the South.

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