UT Conference Explores Landmark Court Decision

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee will present a one-day conference on the historic New York Times v. Sullivan Supreme Court ruling from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 27, in Room 132 of the College of Law.

The conference titled “Heed Their Rising Voices” will focus on the issues involved in the 1964 court decision. Widely hailed as a definitive ruling on matters of libel, the case was decided at a crucial moment in the civil rights movement.

“Heed Their Rising Voices” was the headline of a full-page advertisement placed in the New York Times by civil rights activists on March 29, 1960. The ad described the “wave of terror” met by non-violent demonstrators in the South and appealed for funds to support the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

L.B. Sullivan, a city commissioner in Montgomery, Ala., sued the Times and four ministers whose names appeared in the ad for libel. A local jury awarded him $500,000 in damages, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the judgment.

The conference-s keynote address, “The Sullivan Decision,” will be delivered by Pulitzer-Prize winning author and journalist Anthony Lewis.

Lewis, a long-time reporter and columnist for the New York Times, is author of “Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment.”

Other speakers are Diane McWhorter, who will speak on her Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama-The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Movement;” Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota and former executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Va.; The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil rights leader in Alabama in the 1960s; and Robert Norrell, UT professor of history and author of “Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee.”

“This conference focuses on one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in recent history,- said Dr. John Scheb, UT professor of political science and chair of the Legal Studies Program. “The decision really set the standard for determining matters of libel and expanded the boundaries of public debate in this country.

“It also focused national attention on what was going on in Alabama at the time. The conference will interest people concerned with freedom of the press and the civil rights movement and how it developed.”

“Heed Their Rising Voices” is a collaborative effort on the part of the University of Tennessee Colleges of Law, Arts and Sciences, Communication and Information, and the Baker Center for Public Policy.

A complete listing of conference events can be found at www.bakercenter.utk.edu.