Georgia State College of Law was founded with a commitment to leading the way for equity, diversity and inclusion. This Black History Month, we’ve decided to reflect on the courage and commitment of our Black students and faculty who have fought for equity and inclusion over the years. Below are highlights from some of the people who led the way.
Built on Inclusion
Georgia State University College of Law was founded in 1982, about a decade after Georgia legislators and academics began to recognize the need for part-time law school in downtown Atlanta. A university feasibility report stated that in Georgia in 1979, that Black students made only 5 percent of the enrollment at the three ABA-approved law schools, even though 26.8 percent of the state’s population identified as Black at the time. The report stated, “Accessibility to a nationally accredited legal education is of particular importance to both women and Black residents of the Atlanta community. It simply must be recognized that the three nationally-accredited law schools operating in this State have not effectively attracted minority students and have no part-time or evening programs for working people.” Georgia State Law was created to help change that. Today, the College of Law is No. 2 in the number of Black J.D. graduates from our programs.
The College of Law opened with seven full time faculty members, one of which was Linda Earley Chastang. She was the first Black faculty member. After five years on the faculty, she eventually moved back to Washington, D.C. where she worked as counsel for the NAACP and would go on to become U.S. Representative John Lewis’ Chief of Staff.
Black Law Students Association (BLSA)
The BLSA chapter at GSU Law was started in 1983, just one year after the college’s founding. Chastang was the first advisor. BLSA plays an important role in providing scholarships, a sense of community, and networking opportunities for Black students. The organization also hosts a variety of programs each year for all students, including a mock bar exam and social events.
Ronald J. Freeman
Freeman, (J.D. ’85) was among the first Black graduates of Georgia State College of Law. He was also BLSA’s first president, and the GSU Ronald J. Freeman chapter is now named in his honor.
Freeman was an intern at the State Capitol in 1980 when Ben F. Johnson Jr. was asking legislators to start Georgia State College of Law. Freeman had already accepted a scholarship at Stanford Law, but became intrigued after sitting in on committee hearings about the potential law school.
“I was still not willing to give up scholarship to come to a law school that was unaccredited, operated in one building with a couple of professors,” Freeman said. “But I kept thinking, ‘If that law school is prepared to take a chance on you, you need to be prepared to take a chance on that law school’.”
Still Making Strides
The College of Law recently announced that Jeannine Holmes (J.D. ’22) will become the Georgia State Law Review’s first Black editor-in-chief in the fall. Holmes is also an active BLSA member. Look for a profile on her, publishing later this month.
If you have any fun facts and figures that you would like to share about the College of Law’s Black history, please email email@example.com.
Written by Mara Thompson