Winfield Murray, Teaching Race and Law at Burruss Correctional Prison

The Students at Burruss write about what it meant to them to study “Race and Law under the U.S. Constitution” with Morehouse Professor Winfield Murray

Nathaniel J:

I consider myself very blessed to have been able to attend the class of the “Historical Analysis of Race & Law – Under the U.S. Constitution” taught by Professor Winfred Ward Murray. There was so much detailed legal history dealing with race since the arrival of the slaves in the early 1600s that I was not aware of. This class revived my sense of pride in being an African American male. The resilience and the courage that people of color have made in attempt to create liberty and justice FOR ALL in America is amazing.

This class taught me that on every front Blacks fought even going before the highest of courts to earn their true rights as citizens of this country, which makes me proud. What courage, what stamina, what resilience that our forefathers exhibited.

Learning this accurate historical information has impacted me greatly. It truly has made this dark time in my life more tolerable. Professor Murray is an excellent and dedicated teacher. He teaches with a high level of passion for the material, and an even higher desire for his students’ personal growth that is undeniable. He took the time to not only read every paper but also to respond by writing a 1-2 page critique to each of us personally. He went well beyond his call of duty to assure that we got the best out of his class, in spite of the pandemic. That’s dedication because I know it took hours to do.

He inspired me to read more and learn more about our country. This great country that my ancestors have contributed their lives to sacrificially. He led me to my current belief that if anyone has a right to call themselves Americans, it is African Americans. On all fronts we continue to fight for our blood-bought citizenships.

Professor Murray made the atmosphere very open to our input and our opinions while still guiding us through the material. He even had Chaplain Dunlap leave the room at one point in order to give us an unedited opinion (LOL).

I’ve been sharing the knowledge I’ve gained with all of my family and friends. It makes them happy to know that something like this is offered to those of us who are incarcerated.

Larry B:

Amazing… really, there aren’t enough great words in the dictionary to describe Professor Murray’s course on “Race and Law Under the U.S. Constitution.” I’m not sure I can even articulate how special he is. To be honest, I didn’t feel that way at first. I thought he was searching for avenues to spread discord and animosity amongst Blacks and whites here in prison. Typical of every Caucasian in the modern world, I thought to myself “why are we bringing up how the United States treated minorities 400 years, 300 years, or even a century ago? Can’t we just sweep that stuff under the rug? It’s uncomfortable to discuss, and besides, today isn’t like it was in the past. So let’s drop this subject and move on to other things, okay?”

I didn’t wanna read about how Homer Plessy was legally considered a non-human, and had to ride in a train section that was horrible, simply because he was 1/8th Black. Or, Dred Scott, the Rosewood Massacre, or the lynchings and the beatings – these topics provoked so much emotion! But that is the brilliance of Professor Murray’s teaching methods. I learned three specific things in overcoming racism in this course:

#1: open exposure to the truth. Professor Murray is like a doctor in some ways. Not some family doctor, who puts a stethoscope to your chest and asks you to breathe deeply. He’s like a surgeon. His methods are precise. If you had an infection inside you, and you wanted to get better, you’d hope that your doctor would expose the infection first. You gotta get to the problem so that you can take it out. Murray hit me with truth that I’d never knew. He exposed inside of me a desire to recognize racism with factual history of cases adjudicated by the U.S. Supreme Court. The highest law in our country did in fact design, coerce, and support the subjugation and enslavement of minorities. This is fact! I mean, it opened my heart to truth. This is vital, to acknowledge that racism exists and that it’s structured deeply in our lives…

#2 is healing. After a few weeks I could see changes in my fellow classmates who were Black. Being exposed to so much truth was like giving some of us an avenue to pain. It’s hard to heal when some people don’t know how, ya know? I believe that Professor Murray doesn’t want to change the world, because I’m sure he believes the world is already a beautiful place. He just wants to help us change how we live in it, for the betterment of all…

I have no doubt that when Professor Murray assigned us readings by the Rev. Martin Luther King; more specifically “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he wanted us to see the best way to invest all that raw energy.

Which brings me to #3 – change. Hope-filled stories of reparations, of Brown v. The Board of Education, of never giving up in the pursuit of justice. Professor Murray repeatedly showed us to never give up in the fight for equality and justice. I think sometimes that Professor Murray is so courageous. Kinda like David in the Old Testament, throwing stones at a Goliath that threatens freedom for his people. Not Backing down. Standing against what’s wrong. He’s amazing like that.

I’m Caucasian, white, male, 45 years old, etc… you know the stereotype. But I’m so envious of any young person who happens to be walking down the halls of Morehouse University, on their way to Professor Murray’s class. I would tell them that they are so blessed. To have an opportunity to learn, to heal, and to make a change in that class is life-changing. So blessed.

Farah S:

The first thing I want to say is that Professor Murray did a great job in interacting with us students through personal feedback. He is very well-organized, easy to talk to, energetic, keenly considerate, and will not accept mediocrity from any of us. I really appreciate his strength of character. I really appreciate his time… He is a professor who cares, and I found it easy to be transparent with him.

Secondly, I want to say, “wow!” I learned so much about race, law, and American society that my emotions were all over the place. Human beings were treated as beasts – and in many cases worse than beasts. The type of hate that I read about is unnatural. It is sinister. It is demonic. But Black people are resilient.

I learned that the best way to control people is to strip them of their land, their language, their heritage, and their finances.  I learned that once Africans were kidnapped, chained, and brought to American they were enslaved for life and forced to help in colonizing. What I mean is that they were forced to help grow tobacco, cotton, and other crops because apparently the whites had difficulty with agriculture in southern Georgia. But Black people are resilient.

I learned that the NAACP was provided monetary provision by wealthy whites in order to help African Americans attain jurisprudence degrees. Their aim was to fight the law with the law. But this came much later, because Africans and people of color for a time were not considered citizens and therefore, they could not bring criminal charges against white people, they could not defend themselves in court (there was no such thing as a public defender in those days) or in the community if a crime were committed against them. Why? Because Black people had no rights. But Black people are resilient.

Today racism can be seen in many varied forms – in home ownership, in business in education, in the judicial system, in politics, pretty much in every facet of life. Racism of some sort is deeply bedded in the fabric of this country. Was from the beginning, is now, and will probably remain forever. But Black people are resilient. Black people are homeowners. Black people are business owners. Black people are professors, judges, doctors, attorneys, etc. Why? Because Black people are resilient; we will continue to fight against all injustices until we gain true and lasting equality. Black people will continue to fight until we are free.

Ryan H:

First, I would like to thank everyone involved in educating people who are entangled in Georgia’s prison system. As men and women being caged like zoo animals, an education is an important reminder that our minds are something they cannot take. Dr. Claiborne and Professor Murray are passionate educators who have reminded me that I am a human – regardless of what the state says I am.

This knowledge is the greatest gift from this class, and I extend my sincere gratitude to the administrators at Morehouse for allowing this prestigious institution to be a part of my academic career.

Professor Murray helped me articulate the identity and understand how Black people have endured despicable atrocities and continue to persevere – even thrive.

Professor Murray taught emotionally heavy material, but it was pain that was necessary. Thankfully, Professor Murray encouraged honest expression, and was always gracious and patient when his students’ angry pontifications led them into left field somewhere. It takes a master teacher to be able to redirect students constructively, and because this element was present in his teaching, Professor Murray was able to make the Zoom meeting environments that encouraged healthy (sometimes uncomfortable) discussions.

Professor Murray managed to out-sass me in our last meeting and I will be submitting a requisition for a rematch to the appropriate administrator in triplicate…

During the course, I shared parts of my life with Professor Murray that I have shared with few others. I have rarely encountered a teacher who can manage a healthy balance of teacher and counselor. The most profound sentence came from Professor Murray in response to my sixth assignment, which was an angry lament for my life. He said: “The story you described… was heartbreaking. It is clear to me that you can make a difference in the lives of others… it is my hope that you take every shred and every morsel of everything you are learning in this class to make a difference.”

He asked me to “think about how Ryan Harvey can use his voice to make a difference,” which is not something I think about often. Professor Murray has encouraged me to be authentic – to not be afraid of who I am. He didn’t judge me when I cried because of an innocent Black man, Ed Johnson, being tossed over a bridge, hanged, shot, and adorned with a note “to Justice Harlan: come get your n***** now.” He didn’t judge my anger when I learned that slave women were raped, and they had no right to self defense or grounds to resist their masters. Professor Murray dared to teach me the ugliness of U.S. History that has been so carefully hidden from me.

My analysis of race and law is now a fundamental part of me, and I cannot thank Professor Murray enough for what he has done for me.

Anthony R:

I’ve learned a lot of useful information and you’d think that this would be the end of it, but Professor Murray has merely taught me how to begin.

Professor Murray, to me, knew how to make his classes both engaging and educational. First day students think “oh, U.S. history. More George Washington, Declaration of Independence mess.” It’s anything but that. He takes the touchy topic of racism and formulates a curriculum that engages everyone in a conversation that needs to happen.

He shows that we need not fear the subject as we do now. He rather leads by example by asking stimulating questions that force the student to delve into deep conversation. This to me is undeniable because I am “one of few words” and conversation only comes natural when it feels natural. It’s hard for me to reach a word count because I feel I say all I need to say with all the emphasis necessary to get my point across in the amount of words used.

Professor Murray makes those marathon word counts feel like a walk through the neighborhood. I also have trouble staying on topic in my essays but with Professor Murray, the content is so engaging, I have no choice but to go on and on into this almost tyrannical rant because I feel so strongly about what I’m saying.

Mark Haynes:

I just wish to express my profound gratefulness for this class.

The professor of the year, Mr. Murray did an excellent job at keeping us informed about past legal cases, police brutality, housing discrimination, race relations, etc. I was blown away about how Professor Murray combined the past, present, and future together to help the class understand history and current events…

Once again, this was a great class taught by a great instructor. We need more classes like this. It challenged us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Drawn S:

After reading and studying the material in Professor Murrays course I felt extremely enlightened and upset at the same time. The enlightenment came from reading material that was unknown to me on certain subjects. Dr. Murray made me feel like he was with us, challenging us to absorb the information and give him genuine responses to the material without parroting the language of the textbook… with the way society’s moving right now we need to come together and confront the issues we blatantly ignore when it comes to race relations and systematic racial oppression.