Who Will Save Hillman? Part II: The Law School
The Hillman Law School has been on the front line of Black political progress for more than 50 years. Now, the school needs to name a leader if it intends to survive.
The Hillman Law School has been one of the best examples of what it means to “learn the system so you can to beat the system.” Formed in the basement of The Dr. Charles R. Drew Research Lab, the Hillman Law School finally opened its doors on September 26th, 1962 and, with an incoming class of 130 students, “The Inaugural Class of 1962” was the largest of its time and hell bent on wrecking shop on white supremacy. The school’s focus on policy and the policy making process pulled students out of the streets of marches, and into the back rooms of city hall and the mayor’s office where the real decision making was happening. The Hillman Law School trained students furiously on federal, state and local law, pipelining undergraduates who completed their undergraduate program to Howard Law School before opening its own law school.
The Hillman Law School and The Civil Rights Era 1962–1992
The Hillman Law School opened its doors at a time in our nation’s history when Black America was gearing up to take the fight for freedom to the courtroom. The school wasted no time in aggressively and unapologetically attacking the unjust policies that regulated higher education funding. Hillman students organized voter registration drives and food banks. The school’s founding dean, The Honorable Vivian Hillman, immediately fell out of favor with the administration when she invited controversial minister and self-proclaimed Black Nationalist Malcolm X to speak at the school’s first legal conference in November of 1962. Lady Hillman envisioned a law school that produced socially conscious and politically aware lawyers and put them in the throws of legal warfare. Malcolm X, Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael, Patrice Lumunda and other freedom fighters would routinely visit campus to give lectures.
Under Lady Hillman, the law school saw unprecedented growth and expansion during the civil rights era of the late 1960’s. In a time when other schools were fighting to maintain their autonomy, The Hillman Law School was producing more Black lawyers than any other institution in higher education. The school’s bar exam passage rate was so high that the state accused its students of cheating — even going so far as to make one group of students take the same test 4 separate times. Still, the school grew. In 1970 law school graduate Geraldine Jefferies made history when she became the first Hillman alum to argue a case before the US Supreme Court.
1980’s: Ronald Regan and Hillman
Throughout the 1980’s Hillman Law School gained a reputation for producing top notch lawyers with an unconditional commitment for social justice. Hillman alumni challenged the Reagan administration on policy issues ranging from education to the environment. Hillman lawyers were routinely at the center of some of the most historic and controversial trials during the decade. Graduates Stephen Alonzo and Zoe Jean-Louis were key legal representatives in one of the largest class action law suits ever filed against the city of Miami following the riots that gripped the city in 1981. Several years later, the Hillman Law School sent a delegation of legal council to assist Representative Carrie Meek (D-FL) in drafting legislation to protect Haitian refugees from illegal deportation. Hillman law students worked side by side their “sister school” Florida A&M on policy initiatives aimed at addressing apartheid in South Africa. In 1990, the school made national headlines when its dean, The Honorable Milton Souljay — Hillman’s longest serving law school dean — announced that the school would be launching a special program aimed at targeting drug policies and law enforcement officials accused of civil liberty violations. The move — largely controversial at the time- was perceived by mainstream media as an attack on the police. Hillman officials were pressured by the state legislature to cancel the program.
The Phillip Banks Era
The Hillman Law School was thrown into the national headlines again when law school alum Phillip Banks (Class of 1967) agreed to represent Vaughn “Dap” Dunlap in a highly publicized and racially charged trial following the 1992 LA Riots. Dunlap was arrested and charged with the murder of a Compton police officer. Dunlap claimed that the officer initiated aggression and threatened to kill him before challenging him to a fist fight. Despite the accounts of over 30 witnesses claiming self-defense, Dunlap was charged with first degree murder of a police officer and as such, faced the death penalty in the state of California. Banks decided to represent Dunlap –a graduate student of Mission College at the time — because he felt he saw a lot of himself in the young activist. Banks’ willingness to represent Dunlap, and ultimately win the trial in 1993, sparked new life into the law school. Applications for admittance soared as students from around the nation were inspired to use their law degrees to “beat the system” much like Banks. Banks’ headlining victory was not without personal strife; he eventually ran for a county judge seat and lost handedly. Many critics believe Banks lost the election due to his affiliation with Dunlap. Banks was eventually appointed to the bench by the governor of California in 1993 while serving as Chairman of the Hillman Law School Foundation Fund from 1993–1996. Banks retired from bench in 1996 and briefly relocated to New York before accepting the position of Law School Dean in 1998. Banks led the law school until 2002 before retiring due to health issues. He died just 3 weeks after retiring from the university on November 20, 2002. A resolution was passed by the Hillman Law School Student Body Council to change the name of the law school to the Phillip Banks School of Law and Legal Studies in 2007 to commemorate his colossal contributions to the field of law and the university. The University Board of Trustees rejected the motion the following year, noting that technically Banks was an alum of the law school and not Hillman (He attended Princeton as an undergraduate and then enrolled in Hillman as a law school student).
The Decline: 2002 — Present
Since the death of Judge Banks and his departure from the law school, the road to redemption for one of Hillman’s premiere programs has been an uphill battle. The law school has had 4 interim deans in the past 15 years. The last permanent hire has not happened since 2006 when President Davenport appointed Atlanta A&T Provost Mika Jackson to the post. Jackson held the post for just 40 days before resigning due to “stress-induced illness.” The school continued to struggle as current students transferred to neighboring schools and prospective students stayed away. The caliber of student dwindled as the bar exam failure rate increased. The school lacked a former leader of any kind for a period of 6 months — a move that prompted the school’s accrediting body to send a scathing letter of reprimand to the school’s chancellor in 2010. The school has lacked a vision and solid leader for more than 15 years and the effects are longstanding. Hillman was fortune enough to stave off another state takeover of its medical and law schools a few years ago and block the motions in court. Make no mistake about it: the state of Virginia has war on its mind and Virginia A&M is clamoring for a law and medical school to add to its “Flagship Status.” The school is going to require a visionary with a strong legal mind, leadership appeal, and willingness to take on the system and when the time comes, go to war. Who is up for the challenge?
Freddy Brooks, Esq
Attorney Freddy Brooks has made a name for herself as one of the leading civil, human, and environmental rights attorneys in the nation and would be bringing over 25 years of legal and administrative experience to the Hillman Law School. Brooks graduated with a degree in political science in 1992 and immediately enrolled in Hillman Law School part-time. While enrolled, Brooks interned at the US Supreme Court. She unintentionally made local headlines when she was infamously relieved of her internship after a paper she wrote criticizing US Supreme Court Justice Clearance Thomas came to light. She graduated with honors from Hillman Law School in 1994 and after passing the bar exam on the first try, took a position as a paralegal with Bailey, Bailey & Huxtable and fellow Hillman alum Claire Huxtable. Brooks was instrumental in helping the firm win one of the largest housing discrimination settlements in New York state history.
In 1996, Brooks made headlines again when she returned to Virginia to represent Gina Deveaux in a domestic violence murder trial that rocked Hillman Town and subsequently, the nation. The media frenzy surrounding the case and sensitive nature of domestic violence catapulted her to national notoriety. Immediately following the trial, Brooks accepted a position with the Virginia State Attorney’s Office, then later quit soon after discovering that she was earning less money than her male counterparts with less experience and an even less public profile. Brooks sued the state of Virginia for pay discrimination and won an undisclosed settlement. After the settlement, Brooks retired from law to travel the world, lending her legal expertise and services to environmental causes and humanitarian efforts. Most notably, Brooks was able to assist a village of Aboriginal children to secure funds for their very own independently operated school in 2006. In 2011, Brooks joined her former Hillman roommate Kimberly Reese-Boyer in Jamaica to provide legal assistance when a medical clinic under Reese-Boyer’s supervision came under scrutiny by the World Health Organization for improper use of funds. Reese was cleared of all wrongdoing and Brooks relocated back to Miami where she founded Brooks & Associates, a law firm in South Miami Beach specializing in women’s rights and environmental issues. Brooks is an honorary member of Alpha Delta Rho and sits on numerous corporate boards including the Blacks for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA) , Habitat for Humanity, and the World Wildlife Fund. In 2013, Brooks established a second law office in Tampa, Florida and a third in the Florida Keys. As of 2016, Brooks’ law offices have won more than 12 million dollars in salary disputes for women. Additionally, her personal website says that the law office foci have expanded to include environmental racism, global warming, water restoration initiatives.
The addition of Freddy Brooks to Chancellor Wayne’s administration would undoubtedly put the law school on the right path. Currently, Hillman Law School does not have a very good brand. With Brooks’ elevated national status, as well as legal experience, she has what it takes to brand the Hillman Law School as a viable option for women of color. Additionally, Brooks has worked on virtually every level of law from the US Supreme Court to running her own law offices. She has argued cases on the state, federal, and international level, and is widely recognized among industry insiders to be a leading legal mind in the area of women’s rights. Brooks’ hire would do wonders for Hillman’s personal brand as the school battles to change its image of violating the rights of its trans students. Brooks is not married but has two daughters, both attend Spelman.
Claire Huxtable, Esq
As if Claire Huxtable needed to provide anymore service to her beloved alma mater. Still, it would be criminal for Dr. Wayne not to at least offer the Renaissance Woman the opportunity apply for the Dean of the Law School. I highly doubt she would be interested given her age (Mrs. Huxtable will be 75 this year). Still, age ain’t nothing but a number to this woman as she has been a legal force and guardian angel of Hillman for the past 50 years. Ms. Huxtable is a three-time graduate of Hillman and hold degrees in accounting and finance as well as a law degree with a focus in contractual law. She is currently the only person in the history of Hillman to serve as both Miss Hillman and student body president. She is also the first woman in the school’s history to serve back-to-back terms as student body president and is widely credited by Hillman historians as saving the university from burning down the night Dr. King was killed in April of 1968. Ms. Huxtable moved to Brooklyn, NY with her husband — the late Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable in 1970 and began working as a legal aide to the United States Representative Shirley Chisholm. In 1972, Huxtable was promoted to a key position on Chisholm’s presidential team but resigned shortly after learning she was pregnant with her 3rd child. After giving birth to a son, she accepted a position with the local law firm Bailey & Bailey in Brooklyn. In 1983, Claire was appointed Chief Legal Council and in 1993, was appointed partner in the firm. Huxtable was instrumental in one of the largest housing discrimination suits in US history when Bailey & Bailey was hired on a pro bono basis to represent 20 Haitian-American families who had been denied housing in a very exclusive Brooklyn neighborhood. Huxtable purchased 50.1% of Bailey & Bailey in 2001 and in 2002 renamed the law firm Huxtable & Associates specializing in contract law, landlord disputes, and real estate acquisitions.
In addition to her service to — well — all of humanity, Dr. Huxtable has been a fearless fighter for Hillman since her student activism days. She is listed in Hillman Heritage Hall as co-founder of the Hillman Young Alumni Association and its first president in 1969. Since that time, Ms. Huxtable has been actively involved with the Hillman National Alumni Association every year since. She served as president from 1979 to 1983, and then again from 1990–1993. In 2012, she answered the call to serve Hillman again when she was appointed by Interim President Colonel Taylor to head a legal committee to address the Title X violation lawsuit filed against the university. Her leadership, and expertise on the matter of contract law helped Hillman stave off an aggressive legal attack by federal officials. Huxtable retired from practicing law in 2013, turning the firm over to her daughters Sandra and Vanessa, both graduates of Hillman Law School. Since 2014, Huxtable has served on the Hillman Board of Trustees as a member -at- large and has acted as special advisor to President Wayne since his appointment.
Listen, Claire Huxtable can do whatever she wants. No alumni, past or present, in the past 50 years, has dedicated her life to serving Hillman like this impeccable woman — all while practicing law in one of the toughest states in the nation and raising a family of five children. Ms. Huxtable was originally the first choice of many Hillman Faithful for follow Dr. Davenport as Chancellor. She politely declined citing her desire to “just be a grandmother.” Her professional resume is as impressive as any alumni on this list. Her service and commitment to Hillman is undeniable, and her willingness to do what it takes to save Hillman is well-documented. Huxtable could be Chancellor, Provost, Law School Dean, Alumni Director, Athletic Director, Head Football Coach…pick a position, and the woman will Work. It. Out. It is highly unlikely that she would ever come of retirement to take any of the demanding positions currently vacant at Hillman but… a fellah can dream, can’t he?