Legal Plights and Civil Rights: The Journey of Professor Irving L. Joyner


Professor Irving L. Joyner has been an integral part of the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) School of Law since 1982. As one of the university’s longest-serving faculty members, Professor Joyner’s journey is marked by a profound dedication to law, education, civil rights, and particularly, the right to vote.

Joyner, who attended Rutgers and Long Island University, was deeply influenced by his upbringing. Raised by grandparents who witnessed the challenges of Reconstruction, he learned early on the significance of education and ownership of property as essential elements for success, echoing the teachings of Booker T. Washington.

Joyner’s introduction to systemic racism occurred tragically when his cousin, Bobby Joyner, was unjustly shot and killed by a police officer in LaGrange, N.C. 

“It became a very vivid discovery that this system is stacked against us, that you can be murdered by a police officer and not have any recourse,” Joyner said.

Joyner conveyed that this particular event served as a catalyst, inspiring his desire to actively engage in civil rights cases. 

“The recognition that a way of doing that is to be an attorney; to be in a position where I have a voice inside the courthouse,” Joyner said.

Professor Joyner’s impact on civil rights is exemplified by his involvement in the landmark Wilmington Ten case. Describing it as a situation that “destroyed the lives of these young people,” he dedicated four decades of his life to fighting for their pardon of innocence and compensation for the injustices they endured. His commitment to civil rights garnered recognition from the NAACP, which awarded him the prestigious 2019 William Robert Ming Advocacy Award. 

“We fought to get them a pardon of innocence based on additional evidence that we were able to discover and present to Governor Beverly Perdue, where she was convinced that they deserved a pardon of innocence and compensation for the wrongs they had to endure.”

Recognizing the power of the media, Joyner emphasizes the importance of African Americans telling their stories to ensure proper interpretation and presentation to the public. His role as Co-host in the “Legal Eagle Review” radio program on WNCU 90.7 FM showcases his dedication to fostering critical discussions on legal issues, community impact, and the intersection of law and society.

“I have to admit that I recognize that I’m in a high-tech environment and I have low-tech skills, so I use what I can and one thing I can use is the radio waves.” 

The legal radio show has been on the air for over three decades and, according to Joyner, has welcomed a plethora of guests to “help explain to people how the legal system is to operate, what rights they have, how to fight against injustices, and to help them to uncover some of the injustices that have occurred within our community.” 

Expressing deep concern over society’s perception of the importance of voting, especially among younger generations, Joyner highlights the historical significance of the fight for voting rights. 

“It’s disappointing that our younger generation has downgraded the necessity of voting,” Joyner said.

He notes that over the years, Americans from diverse backgrounds, particularly those belonging to minority groups, have strived to attain influence within the system. Their goal has been to ensure the system functions in a manner that safeguards the rights of all individuals. Therefore, any effort by younger generations to dismantle the electoral system would lack significance unless they actively participate in the democratic process by voting for representatives who advocate for the change they desire.

While expressing support for the recent momentum behind a ranked-choice voting system, Professor Joyner clarifies that the current political realm is not close to endorsing the new method. Additionally, he critiques the prevailing winner-takes-all approach, arguing that it often leads to the dominance of the majority over minority perspectives. Drawing comparisons to countries that have adopted alternative systems, he points out that such reforms have proven effective in fostering a more inclusive and representative democracy.

“Until we have people in those positions that can make those decisions, and those decisions have legal significance, then they’re just a thought – an opinion. An opinion without power is not worthless but of low value in confronting what we are dealing with here,” Joyner said.

When addressing the dichotomy of whether the right to vote is a positive or negative liberty, he emphasizes that, though there isn’t a federal right to vote, state constitutions confer this right, subject to potential abolition by a majority.

“It is fluid in the sense that in a particular state, you can have political interests that will take away that right to vote,” Joyner asserted.

He stresses that the establishment of a federal right to vote for every citizen would necessitate a considerable investment of time, collective interests, and extensive political maneuvering across all states. Joyner further elucidates that, in instances where this right exists at the federal level, it must be uniformly applied on an equal basis, with no room for denial based on race.

He also draws attention to the historical significance of the 15th Amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited the denial of voting rights based on race, color, or previous servitude. Subsequently, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 played a pivotal role in reinforcing and safeguarding these constitutional rights. Professor Joyner underscores the importance of such legal frameworks in ensuring an equitable and non-discriminatory approach to voting rights across the nation.

“A right to vote without the inclination to vote is meaningless, unfortunately,” Joyner said. ”If you don’t go out and fire your enemies who are in these positions of power, it gives them carte blanche to do anything they want to do. Then they control judges, law enforcement, housing laws, and economic realities.”

Professor Joyner’s impactful engagement in civil rights cases stands as a poignant reminder of his commitment to dismantling systemic injustices that have plagued marginalized communities. Beyond the hallowed halls of academia, Professor Joyner has exemplified his commitment to ensuring that the narratives of African Americans are accurately portrayed and heard.

His emphasis on the fluid nature of voting rights and the potential challenges faced at the state level stresses the ongoing struggle to ensure equal access to the ballot box. Professor Joyner leaves us with a profound reflection on the significance of exercising the right to vote. 

As he continues to champion justice, equality, and the right to vote, his legacy stands as an enduring light of inspiration for generations to come.

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