A portrait of Thurgood Marshall, Senate hearings and Clair Huxtable have shaped the way USC legal scholar Danielle Holley-Walker views life. From these seemingly unconnected touch points, she has learned the importance of perseverance, integrity under fire and going beyond mere expectations.
“I knew from an early age that I would study law,” said Danielle, the daughter of a law professor. “I’ve always loved reading. When I went to my father’s office, he was always reading. His students seemed to always be reading, too. And I thought, being a lawyer must be a great job because all you do is read.”
It was during those visits that Danielle came face to face with a portrait of Thurgood Marshall, the famed civil rights attorney and first African-American to serve on the U. S. Supreme Court. “I encountered the struggles of the civil rights movement and the great legal battles that Thurgood Marshall and others spearheaded in the halls of his office. Their determination — especially in the face of difficult odds — has always inspired me,” Danielle said.
Anita Hill’s testimony during the Senate confirmation hearing of Justice Clarence Thomas to the U. S. Supreme Court was also significant for the future law professor.
“Professor Hill’s courageous testimony had a long-term impact,” Danielle said. “She held her head high and testified with an incredible level of candor, professionalism and dignity. She told the truth in the face of incredible amounts of hostility. I often wondered and could not really imagine where her strength came from.”
To this day, Hill’s words are credited with raising national awareness and shifting the dialogue on questions of gender equality and sexual harassment in the workplace. And just as importantly, they also frame the way Danielle handles adversity.
But Anita Hill wasn’t the first African-American woman attorney to impress Danielle. There was also Clair Huxtable, the fictional legal eagle and mother featured on TV’s “The Cosby Show.” Not only was the character a successful attorney, she was also an attentive mother, who kept a close eye on her five children and her husband.
For Danielle, Clair’s high standards were proof that doing what’s expected isn’t enough. “In almost every episode, Clair demanded that her children go beyond what was required,” she said. “Clair and Cliff (her husband) worked hard, and they insisted that their children to do the same.”
Like the Huxtables, Danielle’s parents stressed that success wasn’t inherited, but earned every day.
Today, Danielle is a USC legal scholar and associate dean in the School of Law. Her legal writings focus on education, particularly educational equality, desegregation plans and public school governance. “Legal academics are often accused of writing things that courts don’t use, judges don’t use and practitioners don’t use,” Danielle said. But her research isn’t meant to sit on shelves. Her words are powerful tools for those who fight for equal access to quality schools in South Carolina and across the nation.