‘Artichokes and Lobsters’

Thanks to the interest, concern and understanding of a UFLaw faculty member more than 30 years ago, an important new book — When Race Becomes Real — by one of the first African-American women to attend the University of Florida is dedicated to him.

Distinguished Professor of Law and Stephen C. O’Connell Chair Walter Weyrauch (see page 41) is honored by Bernestine Singley (JD 74, above), in her new book published by Lawrence Hill Books — with a shared dedication to Odessa Roberts Singley (her mother).

“This is a tremendous honor,” said Weyrauch. “I have read the book, and the work is quite stunning.”

When Race Becomes Real is a moving collection of personal stories from well-known African American and white authors about their experiences with race relations in the U.S.

Why the dedication to Weyrauch? Singley speaks of him with fondness and admiration: “Walter [is] what we in the law call ‘sui generis,’ one of a kind. He always was somebody who thought outside the box.”

Singley said Weyrauch affirmed she had the right idea about herself and about challenging preconceptions.

“Maybe it is because he is German,” Singley explains, “and came to the U.S. as an outsider, so he thought as an outsider and was able to relate to black students and racial tensions as well as gender and class issues.”

Singley took several courses from Weyrauch. He remembers her as a top student, one of only three or four African- American females to attend UFLaw at the time, and relates she was a controversial activist against racial segregation with a “piercing, far reaching intellect.”

Weyrauch provided strong endorsement to help Singley get into Harvard, where she obtained a second law degree.

None of the other law faculty had the same impact on Singley as Weyrauch. “There were several others who were ‘helpful,’ but not in ways that I was able to identify as ‘helpful’ back then…..”

The faculty, Singley adds, “provided multiple examples of how entrenched race and gender oppression were and made me even more determined to not just overcome as an individual, but to document what I learned for blacks, whites and others who are committed to toppling race, gender and class hierarchies.”

Weyrauch joined the law faculty in 1957. He was born in Germany, receiving law degrees there before coming to the U.S. to obtain his LLB from Georgetown University, his LLM from Harvard, and a JSD from Yale University. He still teaches in the areas of business organizations, and comparative and family law.

Singley began her career “as the racial integration person,” as she describes herself, during her early school years.

After graduating from a racially segregated high school in Charlotte in 1967, Singley attended the almost entirely white Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. She followed that with UF law school, where Singley says, “I mastered white male talk, white male power and white male entitlement.”

After Harvard, she served as an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts and Texas. She worked as a mediator and consultant and is a full-time writer.

Weyrauch and Singley have maintained steady correspondence. She stayed in his home when visiting Gainesville, and has a standing invitation to stay whenever she returns. She is more than just a former student for Weyrauch, “she is a good friend.”

One example of Weyrauch’s understanding, according to Singley, of what African-American law students would face from the establishment of the times:

“He knew students would face discrimination when interviewing for jobs after graduation, and said one way law firm recruiters weeded out applicants was by taking them to dinner and ordering artichokes (and/or lobsters, he told others) to see if they knew how to eat them.

“It was as much about class as about race, because white applicants were being judged and found wanting as well. So Walter invited us to his home and served artichokes and that’s where I learned to eat them. Walter’s brilliance was that he didn’t just do the analysis, he intervened in a way that allowed me to shift the balance of power.”