Gloria Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law and the author of numerous articles and books on race, law and American society, has traveled extensively to share her progressive understanding of race relations and constitutional law with the world, speaking to audiences in Ghana, Rwanda, England, Wales, Canada and Switzerland. It came as no surprise, then, that on Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she was not celebrating the holiday at home in the United States, but rather was standing before a packed auditorium at the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon, France, where she had been invited to deliver a speech. The subject of her talk was an American literary icon who one might be surprised to learn is actually quite well known in France – James Baldwin.
In the speech, titled “Racial Violence in America Today: What Would James Baldwin Do?,” Browne-Marshall imagines how the renowned author and African American scholar might react to the news that there is a black family in the White House, but also that racial violence, brutality and injustice in the United States remains nearly as prevalent today as when King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial more than 50 years ago.
The speech was subsequently published in the United States in Browne-Marshall’s syndicated column, appearing in newspapers in New York City, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and St. Louis.
It made sense that Browne-Marshall, a member of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration, chose a French audience for her King Day speech. It is the country James Baldwin chose for himself in 1948, when, according to the professor, he was frustrated with American racial injustice to the point that “a simmering rage lay just beneath the surface, waiting to consume him or spill out onto someone else,” a rage that would “make him kill or be killed.”
Baldwin and Browne-Marshall share a belief in the power of American liberty. “For me,” Browne-Marshall noted in her speech, “to speak out against racial hypocrisy channels my rage that comes from living in a democracy crippled by racial violence. Baldwin, like Martin Luther King, and generations of black civil rights leaders before them, learned how to fight America’s institutionalized terrorism without becoming terrorists.”
Speaking about her trip, Browne-Marshall said, “Using the world stage to combat racial injustice dates back to slavery and Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Barnett speaking about lynching. It is part of a long tradition in the fight for social change and civil rights in America.”
Browne-Marshall, the author of Race, Law, and American Society: 1607-Present (Routledge 2013), has received multiple professional honors, including the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Justice Award for her work with civil rights and women’s justice issues, and the Wiley College Woman of Excellence in Law award. An award-winning playwright of seven produced plays, her most recent play, “Diversity,” examines marriage choices. In 2012, she became the first black woman to receive credentials to cover the U.S. Supreme Court.