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Peralta Trustees to Honor David Harper, First African American Jury Foreman of a Major Murder Trial

6 November 2015


david-harper-circa-681At its regular board meeting on Tuesday, November 10, at 7:00 p.m., the Board of Trustees of the Peralta Community College District, will honor David Harper, the first African American jury foreman in a major murder trial in the United States, on the same day as the Mayor of the City of Oakland proclaims November 10th as “David Harper Day.” The meeting, at 333 East 8th Street in Oakland, is open to members of the public. Media are also invited to attend.

Both David Harper (pictured, circa 1968) and a representative from the Office of Mayor Libby Schaaf will be in attendance at the meeting. Board President Meredith Brown will make special remarks noting Harper’s pioneering role in the 1968 murder trial of Black Panther founder Huey Newton for the death of a white Oakland policeman. The Mayor’s Proclamation will be read at the meeting, which takes place at 333 East 8th Street in Oakland, and will be televised live on Peralta TV, cable channels 27 or 28 in the East Bay.

Harper’s role as jury foreman in 1968 remains important even today. In many jurisdictions prosecutors routinely excluded all black jurors from juries “of one’s peers” in death penalty cases.  This month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of an all-white jury that condemned a black teenager to death. In 1968, banker David Harper risked his life to serve as foreman of the polarizing Huey Newton murder trial, held in Oakland just months after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination sparked riots in cities across country. The Newton jury reached a verdict under Harper’s leadership that kept peace when widespread rioting was expected. That groundbreaking jury also led to far broader inclusion of women and minorities in juries across the country.

“Peralta is pleased to play a role in the recognition of David Harper’s contribution to the American justice system,” said Peralta Community College District Board President, Meredith Brown.

“We are an institution of higher learning that serves a diverse population, and the historical and educational aspects of the jury reform movement sparked by the Newton Trial speak to our mission to sustainably enhance the region’s human, economic, environmental and social development and to develop leaders who create opportunities and transform lives,” President Brown said.

“David Harper has contributed to Peralta’s mission through his participation in the justice system and use of the knowledge and skills that he gained through his education. David Harper is a meaningful role model for our students,” she added.

The 1968 Newton trial is the subject of a book,”The Sky’s The Limit,” by retired Oakland Judge Lise Pearlman, who is working on a documentary about the trial, and who will also be in attendance at the meeting.

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