Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2014-03-18

A unique presentation of appellate oral arguments at Samford University Thursday, March 20, will highlight the importance of the civil rights movement in appellate decisions. The public is invited free of charge.

Sponsored by Samford's Cumberland School of Law and the Birmingham Bar Foundation, the program in Wright Center will feature a mock oral argument of the 1960s U.S. Supreme Court case, Katzenbach v. McClung. The case concerned whether or not the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to Ollie's Barbecue, a popular restaurant located in Birmingham. 

The program will begin at 9 a.m. with a dramatic reading of It Began in Birmingham, a play designed to show the reality of segregation in the 1960s.

The mock arguments will be presented by Northern District of Alabama public defender Kevin L. Butler and Birmingham attorney Barry A. Ragsdale.   Five federal judges will hear the arguments, much like the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court did in 1964. They are Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals judges Joel F. Dubina and William H. Pryor, Jr., and Northern District of Alabama judges Karon O. Bowdre, Sharon L. Blackburn and Abdul Kallon.

Following the presentation, a panel will discuss the significance and historical impact of the case. Panelists are journalists Barnett Wright of and Mark Kelly of Weld for Birmingham, retired federal judge Vazetta P. McPherson, Cumberland law student Alison Almeida, Northern District of Alabama assistant federal public defender Glennon Threatt and Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama executive director Isabel Rubio.

The program will end at 12 p.m.

The dramatic reading, commissioned by the Bar Foundation and written by New York attorney and playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, will feature 12 actors from Samford and the community.  Birmingham drama teacher and actor Annie Smith, a Samford theater graduate, is the director.

"We are extremely pleased to be partnering with the Birmingham Bar Foundation to present the oral arguments in the Ollie's Barbecue case," said Cumberland dean Judge John L. Carroll.  "This is a unique event which will allow students and the community to look at both history and our future."

The landmark case stemmed from a lawsuit Ollie McClung, Sr., and his son brought to stop U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach from enforcing Title II of the Civil Rights act of 1964, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.  Title II prohibited restaurants that obtained food through interstate commerce from discriminating against customers based on race.

Thursday's audience will include about 900 students from 16 area schools:  Gardendale High, Holy Family Cristo Rey, A.H. Parker, Homewood High, Central Park Christian, Oneonta High, The Altamont School, Fultondale High, Bessemer City Middle, Minor High, Jefferson Christian Academy, Wenonah High, Tarrant High, Restoration Academy, Huffman High and Brown Mackie College.

In recent weeks, Birmingham Bar Foundation members have visited the schools to discuss the Ollie's Barbecue case and explain oral arguments and appellate procedure.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 37th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 97th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,758 students from 48 states and 22 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 3rd nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.