Louis "Studs" Terkel (1934)  

My three years at the U of C Law School (class of “34) were the most bleak yet fascinating of my life. It was not the fault of the good professors; they did the best they could with me. Mine was a hopeless case. I was shamefully inattentive; my mind and heart were elsewhere.

During those years when I should have kept my gimlet eye on the Grail – Winston, Strawn and Shaw or Mayer, Meyer, Austrian and Platt and such home-and hearths as Lake Forest, Kenilworth and Glencoe – I was lost in a world of day dream and fantasy. I had become a movie and theatre aficionado; and most passionately a lover of the blues.

I saw in Judge Hinton, who taught Procedure, a bespectacled Lionel Barrymore. I saw in Professor Kent who taught Contracts the portly Edward Arnold, who in movies best portrayed tycoons. And years later, whenever I saw the Brit Actor, Alan Bates, I saw Charles Oscar Gregory who taught Torts.

It was Sheldon Tefft, teaching Equity, who most impressed me. What I remember is not one word he said, as was sadly the case with Torts, Contracts and Procedure. It was his voice that over-awed me.. His was a basso profundo, one octave lower than Feodor Chaliapin’s. It was not Moussoursky’s Boris I envisioned in him; more of a basso buffo.

It was he who one day called on me. (It was the only time I was ever called on during my three year tenure, nor did I, perish the thought, ever volunteer. I had successfully concealed myself behind a tall student until I heard Tefft’s sepulchral voice call out my name).

I hadn’t the foggiest idea what the case was about, something in re a spite fence. I didn’t like the smell of the decision, though I had no idea why. I said in the manner of a defendant on a child molesting charge: “This is no court of equity, it’s a court of iniquity.” There may have been a snicker, a nervous one, from two or three of the class. (There were about 200 of us males, three women.) I shall never forget the Dickensian touch in Tefft’s righteous retort. “Not very amusing. Zero, of course.”

Of course I flunked the first bar exam held in June, ’34. They were yes-or-no questions. I had neglected to take the Baker or Evans quiz courses designed for the occasion. It wouldn’t have helped anyway. I did pass the bar exam held in November. They were yes-but-on-the-other-hand essay questions. I was good at that; faking is my forte. That’s why I’m fairly successful as a radio disk jockey.

Despite all the above misadventures, I love the U of C Law School and treasure those three years of attendance. Allow me to explain.

Never having drive an automobile, I was a street car student, traveling from the near North Side to Hyde Park. It involved three trolleys. One point of transfer was in the black belt, known as Bronzeville. It was there while waiting that I heard recorded music – blues songs – blaring out of the gallimaufry stores; everything second-hand was for sale. Even used phonograph records. I fell deeply in love and bought them by the score; a nickel or a dime each. It may explain why I was so often late for class.

So it was that I came to listen and learn from some of my most memorable mentors; Big Dill Broonzy; Memphis Slim; Tampa Red; Memphis Minnie; Roosevelt Sykes; the Honey Dripper; and even from Peatie Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son-In-Law.

Were it not for the U of C Law School where would I have been? What would have become of me? Those three years altered my life for the better, I think. And for that reason, I am deeply grateful.