ALBANY, Ga. -- More than 25 members of the Darton Paralegal Student Association gathered at the Darton State College Student Center Tuesday to hear four members of the legal profession speak about law as applied to historical and personal equality. The occasion was national Law Day, observed each year since President Dwight D. Eisenhower established it in 1958 to recognize the principles of government under law.
According to William F. (Trey) Underwood III, president-elect of the Dougherty County Bar Association, the theme of this year's Law Day was "Realizing The Dream: Equality for All."
"This day should hold an even greater significance for Americans, since it marks the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have a Dream' speech," Underwood said.
In keeping with those themes, most speakers made at least some mention of the Proclamation Tuesday, the boldness of its issue -- considering that Abraham Lincoln was not a particularly popular president -- and the historical significance of the document. It was also made clear that the proclamation did not actually free slaves.
According to Baxter Howell, because slaves were considered valuable property even by many in the North, the Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order, issued by Lincoln himself. It did not affect any Confederate state already under Union control or any state that had not seceded. And, of course, it relied upon the Union winning the war, by no means a foregone conclusion, Howell said. It was only with the 13th Amendment to the U.S. constitution, coming after war's end, that slaves were actually freed.
Dougherty County Assistant District Attorney Smith Wilson said that though she's only been in her current position for about three years, she is acquainted with women who experienced severe discrimination in the law field, one of which was required to return to work within two days of childbirth.
"That couldn't be done today," Wilson said. "It's not legal. You'd be given plenty of time to recover and be with your child."
Karen Brown, an attorney with the Public Defender's office, called the Emancipation Proclamation "the greatest plea bargain known to man."
"It's a living, breathing document," Brown said of the proclamation. "It was forced into being by a president so unpopular he had to sneak into town for his inauguration."
Brown said that, even though the Emancipation Proclamation was a great historical document, she would have had trouble defending it at the time because it took so much of what was then considered property from law-abiding citizens.
Charles Lamb, an attorney with the Lamb Law Firm, discussed the advancement through history of people with physical or mental disabilities at the Law Day gathering. According to Lamb, as late as the 1980s and early 1990s, mental patients were commonly warehoused, put in institutions without hot water and abused, physically and sexually.
Lamb himself was paralyzed from the chest down several years ago when vertebrae in his neck were injured in a diving accident. While he has mostly recovered from the injury, he said the residual affects remind him of the plight of the disabled.