The Polley case represents an amazing history and a conscious decision by the State through the Circuit Court of Wayne County, West Virginia, to bring that history to light for both the Polley descendants and for the residents of Wayne County to name the Polley children as free persons and to educate the broader community. This choice was to use the court as a space where the truth about the Polley children could be told. Its ends included the transformation of the descendants of the Polley children and the opportunity to make real and present the legacy of slavery, which continues to define the United States and its ongoing struggles concerning race.
In the end, the Polley adjudication suggests that the power of truth telling is an important interest that the government could pursue as a means to take responsibility for the history of slavery, a history the government itself helped to perpetuate. Moreover, such truth telling can go towards healing the harms of slavery on a personal and societal level. In this sense, there is more to be done than to stop discriminating on the basis of race. The wounds that racial discrimination has inflicted (and continues to inflict) should be brought to light so that healing on all sides can actually take place. The Polley adjudication serves as a pointer towards this approach. It is up to future work to develop it into something more.
. Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law.