Law Day is an annual observance noted in the legal community for more than 60 years. These resources celebrate the law and bring to life in dramatic re-enactments the role of students, the courts, and the Constitution in times of change.
Law Day, celebrated on May 1 and throughout the month of May, has been a visible part of American legal culture since President Dwight D. Eisenhower established it in 1958 to celebrate the rule of law in a free society. Eisenhower, a former five-star Army general during World War II, saw first-hand what happens when the rule of law breaks down. As the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, he directed multi-lateral military operations on land, sea, and air in Europe.
Timeless Observance of Law Day
Here, at home, some say that students have always been on the front lines of social change in America. Even grade school students – like Sylvia Mendez and Linda Brown – have made their mark on history by working through the federal courts.
When nine-year-old Sylvia Mendez was turned away from a “whites only” school in California, she didn’t realize that her legal battle, won in the 1940s would open doors, not only for other Hispanic students, but it would pave the way in the 1950s for Linda Brown, an African American grade schooler, and her peers to break down more educational barriers eight years later.
Thurgood Marshall was an attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People when he represented the cause of both students. In 1947, he won victory for Mendez in federal court in California. In 1954, he succeeded for Brown at the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, D.C. where he later served as an associate justice.
While Brown v. Board of Education is a widely known landmark Supreme Court case, few make a connection between it and Mendez v. Westminster. The legal history of these two cases comes together in a personal way in two readers theater reenactments – one about Sylvia Mendez and one about Linda Brown. They are ready to read and perform immediately in classrooms, courtrooms, and communities.
Resources on the Role of Students in Bringing Social Change Through the Courts
Readers Theater Activities
What is readers theater? It is a dramatic reading of a prepared script as if it were a stage play, however, there are no costumes, props, or actions. Instead, volunteers use expressive voices and gestures to add interest and meaning to the story line. Participants hold their own copy of the script and read their respective parts so that everyone in the audience can hear. They do not memorize their lines. The emphasis is on comprehension and student-centered learning.