McGeorge School of Law Emeritus Professor Brian K. Landsberg recently authored an innovative analysis of a landmark desegregation case, Lee v. Macon County Board of Education (1967). Landsberg’s book, “Revolution by Law: The Federal Government and the Desegregation of Alabama Schools,” an in-depth study of the case and its larger implications, illuminates how the efforts of African-Americans to desegregate a school district in rural Alabama eventually led to the end of the state-imposed racial segregation of public schools in the Deep South.
“In the 1960s and 1970s, I worked on various aspects of the groundbreaking case, Lee v. Macon County Board of Education. Lee became the model for other statewide school desegregation cases and for cases challenging conditions in prisons and institutions for mentally ill people,” Landsberg said. “It played a central role in dismantling Alabama’s official racial caste system.”
Landsberg began his career working for the Civil Rights Division (CRD) in 1964, the year after the lawsuit was filed. He worked on the case in several capacities, including as a trial attorney in 1966, the coordinator for the preparation of the state-wide case, as well as chief of the education section of the CRD from 1969 to 1974, and finally as chief of the appellate section of the CRD from 1974 to 1986.
Landsberg began teaching at McGeorge School of Law in 1986 until his retirement in 2015, and has continued to teach as an emeritus professor. His teaching and scholarship are grounded in his experience as an attorney in the CRD and his personal involvement in the legal struggle for racial justice.
In his book, Landsberg argues that private plaintiffs, the executive branch, the federal courts, and eventually the U.S. Congress each played important roles in transforming the options open to later administrations.
“I wrote the book because I think it important to understand the methods that the federal government used to desegregate the schools of the Deep South,” Landsberg said. “I hope that studying Lee will point the way toward the renewal of federal action to secure equal educational opportunity, without regard to race.”
New York Times national correspondent Elaina Plott, wrote, “Landsberg produces that rare work of literature that manages to marry the style and texture of an observational account with the intellectual rigor of a definitive account of history. Revolution by Law should be an immediate addition to the syllabi of every undergraduate- and graduate-level course on the legal history of the civil rights movement. It should also be on the nightstand of any American interested in the role of law amid social and cultural turmoil — how the Civil Right Division’s innovative approach to the problem of school segregation might be repurposed against the racial injustices of today.”
His other books include Free at Last to Vote: The Alabama Origins of the Voting Rights Act, Global Issues in Constitutional Law [with Professor Leslie Gielow Jacobs], Global Issues in Employment Discrimination Law [with Samuel Estreicher], Enforcing Civil Rights: Race Discrimination and the Department of Justice, and the three-volume Major Acts of Congress [editor].
Landsberg has continued to promote civil rights as Chair of the Amicus Committee of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a national organization of lawyers founded at the request of President John F. Kennedy to provide legal representation on important issues of race discrimination. He is also Co-Chair of the Sacramento-Davis Chapter of J Street, a national pro-Israel, pro-peace organization.
Landsberg will be discussing his book with United States District Judge Mueller at a Racial Justice Celebration on Thursday, October 13 at McGeorge School of Law, in person and by Zoom. The event will be held from 5:00-6:00 p.m. PT in the Hugh & Hazel Darling Foundation Grand Salon. A reception will follow immediately afterwards.
McGeorge School of Law is creating the Brian and Dorothy Landsberg Racial Justice Scholarship, with substantial support from Brian and his wife Dorothy. This endowed scholarship will enable McGeorge to attract and retain law students who have a strong demonstrated commitment to furthering the mission of racial justice and established financial need. If you would like to support this new scholarship, you can do so by making a gift online at alumni.mcgeorge.edu/makeagift.