Preserving Community History – American Legion James Reese Europe Post No. 5

The James Reese Europe Post No. 5 of the American Legion met for the first time in 1919 in an empty freight rail car at the Washington Navy Yard to form one of the nation’s first African American veterans’ organizations. The post’s namesake, Lieutenant James Reese Europe, who grew up in Washington, D.C., was a jazz musician and director of the 369th U.S. Infantry Band. The 369th, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, was an African American regiment that served more combat time in WWI than any other unit. Ironically, at the time, it was difficult for African Americans to serve in the military because of racist assumptions about their fitness for duty. Europe and his regiment not only blew apart those stereotypes, but they also helped to spread American ragtime and jazz music all over the world.

Upon their return from WWI, African American veterans were excluded from traditional veteran support organizations, which led to the creation of Post No. 5. The post has been located at 2027 N. Capitol St. NW since 1954. In its 95 years in the community, it has provided support for generations of veterans and their families and served the community through youth programs, service projects, and events to bring people together.

Over the past several years, the AUWCL Community and Economic Development Law Clinic has been working with Post No. 5 to preserve and find a location to house its rich archive of historical documents, pictures, and artifacts. In collaboration with AU School of Communications Professor Angie Chuang and Prologue DC, who have worked on aspects of the research and archiving process, the CEDLC hopes to help Post No. 5 determine the next stage of its mission. CEDLC Professor Brenda Smith says, “I think the Post has a future that it can’t really see yet. I feel that the Post is going to be a place where people come to study the participation of African Americans in conflicts.”

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Everyone Starts Somewhere

Now that the first weeks of Clinic orientations, seminars, and simulation exercises are over, our students are happily (we hope) digging into their cases and learning about their clients. For some students, this can be overwhelming at first. Clients are not just names on paper; they are people who show up and expect you to help solve their problems. They are trusting you. No pressure at all!

Every lawyer has been there. We all have to start somewhere, and we are honored to provide a place for our students to begin transforming into the kinds of lawyers they want to be. By way of reassurance, and after some cajoling, we present photographic evidence from some of our clinical faculty, so that you can see that they were just like you once. They learned their professional style, and so will you.

For Professor Anita Sinha, who directs our International Human Rights Law Clinic, her start was with a Skadden Fellowship with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Seattle in the fall of 2001, not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She remembers, “I was at a conference with my then supervisor and colleague outside Seattle, trying to make sense of what happened and figure out how I could execute my fellowship project in this completely changed environment. Hard to believe, but I didn’t figure it out – but I was grateful for that and other chances to step back, assess, and re-group.”

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Professor Claire Donohue (Domestic Violence Clinic) was kind enough to offer an unflinchingly honest view of her law school experience.

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“Writing my 2L book review”

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“Graduating with a JD/MSW, with a clerkship and an offer from the public defenders”

“I referred to law school as “white collar vocational school” and counted the minutes until I was done. I had some wonderful teachers at Boston College and count many as my friends now, and I have lasting friendships with law school friends too; but the overall experience was not for me. I was so anxious to get out and be a real attorney. I never did clinic in law school, because my social work field placement hours gobbled up those credits. I figured legal practice was something separate from school. . . and I felt done with school before I even began.

“I seriously never would have guessed that one day I would be working in a law school, let alone gratuitously working with students on their comments and notes. My experience as clinical faculty allows me to connect practice to theory in ways I think I was craving in school. Writing is still challenging for me, but there is no more throw up face!”

Some of our faculty didn’t offer as much commentary about what they were thinking at the time, but we can all agree that they looked fantastic.

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Finally, in the process of obtaining the pictures above, we ran across our very favorite early-professional picture: Future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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Can someone please get this woman a robe already?

We know that you’re all going to do great things, starting now.