Editors Note: The following is the text of an address delivered by the Honorable Carole K. Bellows to the 2010 Class of Distinguished Counselors on December 8, 2010 on the occasion of their 50th anniversary celebration.
What a privilege it is to be asked to speak for the class of 1960 at this 50th anniversary celebration. It is undisputed that our fathers and uncles are rightfully acknowledged as the greatest generation of the century for saving the free world from tyranny in the second world war. A typical hero of that generation is Paula Holderman’s dear late father, Paul Goeldner, who enlisted in the Army as soon as he graduated from high school at the age of 18. At the age of 19, he was an Army medic who arrived in Normandy on the third day of the D Day invasion. At the age of 20, he helped liberate the survivors from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. He returned home and went on with his life and did not mention his experiences for more than 60 years when his son in law Jim finally got him to share his memories.
The lawyers of the class of 1960 should also be acknowledged as heroes too. It was our generation which for the first time in history and through its efforts advanced the cause of civil rights for all Americans.
When we were admitted to the bar, we were all aware of the devastating effects of the Jim Crow laws in the south, which were enforced through the brutal force of the law. There was neither equality nor justice in public education, employment, housing, voting, public transportation, and public accommodations, just to name a few areas. When black war veterans returned home to the south, they were not allowed to vote, stay at hotels, or eat at public restaurants. Drinking from the wrong water fountain or using the wrong restroom could be fatal. In June of 1964, three civil rights workers, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Cheney, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi.
Life for racial and religious minorities in the north was only marginally better. In my Evanston Public School District, African American children in most instances were not allowed to attend a school with white children from K-6. Most minority children were placed in a single and inferior segregated school. There were two separate YMCAs, one black and one white, and there was no swimming pool at Evanston Township High School until years after I left. If Jews or people of color wanted to buy a home, they were limited because of restrictive covenants which were carried on real estate throughout the country.
Northwestern University in my hometown had quotas which limited the admission of Jewish students to their programs. When I graduated from Northwestern Law School in 1960, women constituted less than 3% of the legal profession and were openly discriminated against in securing real law jobs. Sandra Day O’Connor, a top Stanford law student, was offered a job as a legal secretary but not as a lawyer.
My dear friend who was a lawyer was shocked to learn upon her divorce in the 1960s that she had lost her premarital good credit to her spendthrift ex-husband. Remember, under common law, a husband and wife became one—the husband. I was barred from a private room luncheon meeting at the Midday Club, even though I was chair of an ABA committee, solely because of my gender. It was our generation of lawyers who marched, legislated, lobbied and litigated to open society to all people.
In 1969, my small subcommittee of the Chicago Bar Association drafted the language which became Section 17 of the Bill of Rights of the 1970 Illinois Constitution, which provided that “All persons shall have the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, national ancestry and sex in the hiring and promotion practices of any employer or in the sale or rental of property.” The constitution also provided for equal protection of the laws, free from abridgment because of sex, no discrimination against persons with mental or physical handicaps, and a prohibition against hate communications. We also saw extensive federal and state legislation passed protecting civil rights in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, school sports, and voting.
Today, with an African American President, three women and two African Americans as present and former secretaries of state, four women and an African American serving or having served on the Illinois Supreme Court, and four women and two African Americans serving or having served on the U.S. Supreme Court, we should look back with pride on our efforts and support on the journey towards justice for all. Congratulations Class of 1960. ■