At Harvard, a Confederate flag spurred Jackson to act.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — When a Confederate flag was hung from the window of a dormitory at Harvard University more than 30 years ago, members of the Black Students Association saw it as an attempt to tell them they did not belong there.

They sprang into action, “being vocal, agitating, militating, marching, doing all that great stuff,” Antoinette Coakley, one of the students, recalled recently. But the voice of another member — Ketanji Brown, a classmate who was soon to become one of Ms. Coakley’s best friends — cut through the noise.

“Ketanji said: ‘Wait a minute, as we’re doing this, we’re missing out on classes. As we’re fighting against this injustice, we’re actually doing them a service because we’re going to be failing,’” Ms. Coakley, now a law professor at Northeastern University, recalled.

“So we protested, but we made sure we were in class,” she added. “We were going to show them that by showing up the way that we did — excellently — that they were wrong.”

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