Students at the Saint Louis University School of Law this fall will have the opportunity to take personal injury law from a new professor, Justin Hansford. But this 29-year-old scholar will hit his stride next spring, when he first teaches legal ethics at SLU.
“I plan to specialize in ethics,” Hansford told The American. “I am interested in teaching students how to be lawyers who fight for the little guy.”
A third-generation legacy graduate of Howard University, Hansford advocates in particular for “the little guy” of African descent. So much so that when his law school, Georgetown Law, did not publish a law review with the proper focus to accept the article he had written on the Marcus Garvey case, he forced the university to start one.
“Up until then, no journal at Georgetown focused on racial injustice,” Hansford said. “They had journals on poverty, international law–everything except racial inequality. We had protests and submitted proposals, and the administration eventually decided to publish this journal.”
When he is not teaching, Hansford plans to rewrite his essay on Garvey, “Jailing a Rainbow: the Marcus Garvey Case,” into a book. This is work that both corrects the historical record, in Hansford’s opinion, while setting the stage for progress in the crucial arena of economic justice.
“My thesis is that Marcus Garvey was wrongly convicted of mail fraud, and after this conviction he was later deported and never returned to the U.S.,” Hansford said. “His conviction played a large role leading to the end of his movement. Marcus Garvey’s vision for economic justice suffered from his incarceration and the ultimate marginalization of his movement.”
At its height there were almost 5 million members of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. The Black Star Line, its flagship, allegedly was a fraudulent Ponzi scheme, according to prosecutors.
Hansford does not paint a simple portrait of white-dominated government targeting the leader of a black economic self-empowerment movement. He also looks at infighting within the African-American leadership that, he said, led to a critical split that hampers progress of African Americans to this day.
He does more than hope for a more productive future. In his scholarship and teaching, he intends to help forge it.
“Moving forward in the 21st century, there is a great deal of economic inequality affecting African Americans in particular, and I feel that is one of the negative consequences of this feud–as if the goal of civil and political rights were mutually exclusive of economic justice,” Hansford said.