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Representing the Race

Representing the Race

The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer

Kenneth W. Mack

ISBN 9780674416956

Publication date: 09/01/2014

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“A wonderful excavation of the first era of civil rights lawyering.”—Randall L. Kennedy, author of The Persistence of the Color Line

“Ken Mack brings to this monumental work not only a profound understanding of law, biography, history and racial relations but also an engaging narrative style that brings each of his subjects dynamically alive.”—Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals

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?


  • Richly compelling and impressively astute… One of Mack’s most original and insightful themes is his argument that African American lawyers saw themselves as ‘members of a fraternity that crossed the color line’ and that ‘cross-racial professional norms’ allowed ‘black men to cross over into the white world’ inside courtrooms both North and South… Representing the Race examines the pre-Brown [v. Board of Education] world of black lawyers with a perceptive, critical thoughtfulness that sets Mack’s work above all previous treatments. By eschewing celebratory homage in favor of tough-minded honesty, he addresses the hardest questions about representativeness and ‘racial authenticity’ with an acuity and freshness that resonate forward to the present day… Representing the Race will be a prize-winning book that profoundly alters and improves our understanding of civil rights history.

    —David J. Garrow, Washington Post


  • Kenneth W. Mack is Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press