Representing the Race tells the story of an enduring paradox of American race relations, through the prism of a collective biography of African American lawyers who worked in the era of segregation. Practicing the law and seeking justice for diverse clients, they confronted a tension between their racial identity as black men and women and their professional identity as lawyers. Both blacks and whites demanded that these attorneys stand apart from their racial community as members of the legal fraternity. Yet, at the same time, they were expected to be “authentic”—that is, in sympathy with the black masses. This conundrum, as Kenneth W. Mack shows, continues to reverberate through American politics today.
Mack reorients what we thought we knew about famous figures such as Thurgood Marshall, who rose to prominence by convincing local blacks and prominent whites that he was—as nearly as possible—one of them. But he also introduces a little-known cast of characters to the American racial narrative. These include Loren Miller, the biracial Los Angeles lawyer who, after learning in college that he was black, became a Marxist critic of his fellow black attorneys and ultimately a leading civil rights advocate; and Pauli Murray, a black woman who seemed neither black nor white, neither man nor woman, who helped invent sex discrimination as a category of law. The stories of these lawyers pose the unsettling question: what, ultimately, does it mean to “represent” a minority group in the give-and-take of American law and politics?