Earl B. Dickerson Centennial Student Research Opportunities

Earl Dickerson

About the Dickerson Centennial 

Earl B. Dickerson Photo

On April 17 and 18, 2020, the University of Chicago Law School will celebrate an historic milestone for our institution: the 100th anniversary of the graduation of one of our most distinguished alumni, Earl B. Dickerson.

Earl Dickerson, grandson of slaves, graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 1920, the first African American to earn a juris doctor from our institution. His distinguished career included serving as an alderman of Chicago, president of the Supreme Life Insurance Company, a member of the national board of the NAACP, and president of the National Lawyers Guild. He also won the Supreme Court case of Hansberry v. Lee (1940), a challenge to racially restrictive covenants in Chicago.

To learn more about the event, please visit: Earl B. Dickerson Centennial Conference

Dickerson Centennial student research possibilities

This year, the law school is commemorating the life of our first African-American JD graduate. As part of our celebration of the centennial of Earl B. Dickerson’s graduation, Professors Fairley, Hubbard, and McAdams have identified possible student research projects related to his life and work. We invite students to pursue these or any other projects that you might develop to study law or history that relates to the life and work of Earl Dickerson. 

For students who are interested in learning more about Earl Dickerson and the history of the Law School, these projects are a way to do so while earning independent study credit. If the project involves substantial writing, the projects would also be eligible for SRP or WP credit

You should feel welcome to seek out a faculty advisor for the independent study, or Professor Hubbard can help match you with an advisor. (And please note that in the Winter Quarter, Professor Jane Dailey will teach a seminar on the history of the civil rights movement in the United States.) The D’Angelo Law Librarians will be happy to advise you on your research as well, and the library has already created an online Earl B. Dickerson Research Guide with useful background and resources on Earl Dickerson’s life and work. Below, we list our ideas for research projects, followed by information on applying for research support funding.

Project Description
Project 1 Lessons from the “EBD files”: This project would involve research of primary sources for biographical materials on Earl Dickerson. The Carter Woodson Regional Library at 95th and Halsted has 23 boxes of primary materials about Dickerson, including the redacted FBI file on him. This project would be suited for a student with a background in history or other experience doing research with primary materials. Depending on the findings in the research, the final product could vary from a research paper, to the creation of a curated collection of significant documents for display at the Law School, or other appropriate ways to share findings with the larger Law School community. 
Project 2 Updating the Story of Nelson Willis and Earl Dickerson: This project would involve writing short pieces collecting biographical information on Nelson Willis and Earl Dickerson and assessing their contributions to the law. Possible outlets for this research could include creating a Wikipedia page for Willis, expanding the Wikipedia page for Dickerson, and sharing the research with the Law School community as part of the Centennial. 
Project 3 EBD and Hyde Park: Earl Dickerson had many connections to Hyde Park, having lived in a around Hyde Park for much of his life, in addition to attending the University of Chicago Laboratory School and Law School. The Hyde Park that Dickerson knew—even in his golden years in the 1970s and 1980s—is very different from the Hyde Park of today. This project could explore the history of where Dickerson lived and studied in Hyde Park. The final product could vary from a research paper to an audio-video virtual tour of the places in Hyde Park that Dickerson knew. 
Project 4 Current legal issues in Property Development in Woodlawn: The racially restrictive covenant struck down by the Supreme Court in Hansberry v. Lee affected a neighborhood a few blocks southwest of the Law School. Today, this area is considered part of the Woodlawn neighborhood. Questions of who is moving into or buying property in Woodlawn are different today, but there remain many contested legal issues, including controversies related to gentrification and the building of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. This project would involve identifying a current legal controversy involving property development in Woodlawn and studying its legal, social, and economic causes and consequences. The final product would be a research paper. 
Project 5 The FEPC and the Role of Public Hearings in Anti-Discrimination Law: As a commissioner of the first federal Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), which was established in 1941, Earl Dickerson chaired public hearings throughout the United States that brought to light discrimination in government and defense contracting. With a tiny budget and no legal enforcement authority, these hearings were the primary tool of the FEPC to press for change in employment practices. What is the role for public hearings on employment discrimination today, when there are more legal tools for bringing employment discrimination claims, but confidential arbitration and settlement may make publicity a less effective tool? The final product of this research project would be a research paper.
Project 6 The Supreme Life Insurance Company and Corporate Social Responsibility: As general counsel and then CEO of the Supreme Life Insurance Company, one of the largest African-American owned life insurance companies in the United States, Earl Dickerson saw racial integration as part of his corporate mission. What lessons does the Supreme Life Insurance Company have for current debates about corporate social responsibility? The final product of the research project would be a research paper.

Research Funding 

If any of the above projects incorporates law and economics in some way (whether technical or nontechnical, theoretical or empirical), it may be eligible for research support funding. The Donald M. Ephraim Scholars in Law and Economics grant provides up to $5,000 in research support for students whose research projects include elements of law and economics. The deadline to apply for funding is January 10, 2020, and further information is available here.

If any of the above projects contributes to a student initiative to support diversity, inclusion and collaboration at the Law School, it may be eligible for support from the Diversity and Inclusion Grant Initiative provides up to $5,000 grants to support student projects. The deadline to apply for funding is January 24, 2020, and further information is available here.

Other sources of support may be available, and we will keep interested students updated on such opportunities as well.