About the Initiative

The front façade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington, DC.

The U.S. Law and Race Initiative at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is an interdisciplinary project addressing race and racialization in U.S. law and history, dedicated to understanding racialized people’s use of the law to advance personhood, citizenship, rights, and sovereignty throughout American history. Funded by The Mellon Foundation and co-directed by William G. Thomas III, Katrina Jagodinsky, and Jeannette Eileen Jones, the project brings together a diverse interdisciplinary team of historians and legal scholars that promises to reconstitute the documentary record of U.S. case law related to race, introduce critical historical pedagogies through new curricular programs, and incorporate storytelling and subjective experience into our scholarly understandings of race and racialization across U.S. history.

The project introduces audiences to the efforts of marginalized people to pursue racial and social justice claims in the law, connecting past legal networks and strategies to modern counterparts and contexts. These men and women challenged racial categorization and oppression, offered counter-narratives for future legal action, and, in so doing, shaped the course of American law and history. But their stories have been neither widely available nor closely studied. Drawing on unpublished archival legal records from courts across the U.S. and beyond, our collaboration incorporates scholarly analysis and first-person storytelling from communities affected by these historic cases. Our partnership seeks to reckon with the history of U.S. law, race, and racialization in ways that prompt wider research, teaching, learning, acknowledgement, and ultimately reconciliation.

Our project aims to establish a central hub for:

  • digital and legal research tools through an open educational resource in the service of racial and social justice,
  • curricular programs, training, and a fellowship program for underrepresented graduate students in law and history, and
  • collaborative conversations and partnerships with communities affected by this history to recount their experiences through critical storytelling. 

We seek to establish an open digital repository for the study of U.S. law and race that integrates the historical record with the voices, perspectives, and stories of those affected by this history. Our goal is to extend the American historical imagination and to recover these stories, illuminating how ordinary people used the law to define their rights and how their actions intersected with the nation's highest politics. Such stories need telling now because Americans live in separate historical realities. Only through initiatives like this one that bring together large university teaching programs, immersive new forms of digital media content, and community partnership storytelling can we begin to connect Americans to their history in ways that repair the fractures in our national understanding.