Ifill, Sherrilyn A.

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Ifill, Sherrilyn A.

PERSONAL:

Education: Vassar College, B.A., 1984; New York University, J.D., 1987.

ADDRESSES:

Office—School of Law, University of Maryland, 500 W. Baltimore St., Baltimore, MD 21201-1786. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Attorney, activist, consultant, educator, and author. University of Maryland, School of Law, Baltimore, professor of law, 1993—. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., assistant counsel; Reentry of Ex-Offenders Clinic, cofounder. Member of board of directors, Open Society Institute, Baltimore, and the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore.

WRITINGS:

On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Baltimore Sun, Jurist, Colorlines Magazine, and the AFRO American.

SIDELIGHTS:

Sherrilyn A. Ifill is a prominent writer on legal issues such as diversity and impartiality in judicial proceedings. She is "nationally recognized as an advocate in the areas of civil rights, voting rights, judicial diversity and judicial decision-making," according to a biographer on the University of Maryland School of Law Web site. Ifill "also writes about the history of racial violence and contemporary reconciliation efforts." In her first book, On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century, Ifill confronts the difficult history of racially motivated attacks and murder-by-lynching that once plagued the Eastern Shore region of Maryland. An area closely identified with the American South and the Confederacy, the Eastern Shore is also marked by high levels of poverty and poor educational achievement. The last lynching occurred there more than eighty years ago.

Ifill identified distinct differences in the way that blacks and whites remembered and reacted to incidents of racial hatred. A number of whites interviewed by Ifill remembered that there had indeed been lynchings in the Eastern Shore, but they knew or recalled very few details about them. In contrast, many blacks she spoke to had detailed knowledge of the lynchings and could vividly recount elements of the events, even if they had not been there. "Ifill says she found this silence by whites and their detachment from the lynchings quite extraordinary when contrasted with the rich and detailed recollections of blacks," commented Osita Iroegbu in the Recorder.

With her book, "Ifill depicts a region still suffering from its history of lynching and says the Eastern Shore is only one of many such communities across the nation," Iroegbu noted. Ifill explores the deep racial divisions that have split the Eastern Shore, exemplified by a controversy over erecting a monument to statesman and former slave Frederick Douglass on the Talbot County courthouse lawn. Ironically, a monument to fallen Confederate soldiers has long stood on that very same lawn. Ifill also recounts several cases of gross injustice in which blacks were convicted of crimes on the basis of flimsy evidence and testimony that would otherwise fail to stand up in court. She notes that even now, blacks and whites have tremendous difficulty discussing the history of lynching and racial violence in America. There are few who "really want to remember what for most on both sides of the divide were traumatizing events. Yet remembering is essential," observed a Kirkus Reviews critic. The reviewer concluded that Ifill's book is an "intriguing, immodest proposal that itself warrants discussion—and action."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2006, review of On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-first Century, p. 1160.

Legal Times, March 26, 2007, Osita Iroegbu, review of On the Courthouse Lawn.

Recorder, May 11, 2007, Osita Iroegbu, "Breaking the Code of Silence," review of On the Courthouse Lawn.

Reference & Research Book News, May, 2007, review of On the Courthouse Lawn.

ONLINE

University of Maryland School of Law Web site, http://www.law.maryland.edu/ (October 10, 2007), biography of Sherrilyn A. Ifill.