“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.
A book for those seeking new angles on what they consider already-familiar material… This group of pioneering lawyers didn’t just help break boundaries, but also, as Mack so adeptly shows, their own stories do not fit the easy narratives we may expect from our civil rights leaders… These men and women achieved important victories whose impact continues to resonate.
Mack’s collective biography of early black attorneys is an important contribution to the host of new and innovative works in the last decade that have broadened the scope, nature, and sophistication of the study of the civil rights movement… Mack includes but moves beyond icons such as Charles Houston, William Hastie, and Thurgood Marshall to lesser-known attorneys who fought for clients in cases that will never receive historical attention. These groundbreakers struggled to establish their identity as professional attorneys within the legal community, courtroom, and larger society. They maintained a delicate balance among their racial identity, position in the black community, and larger legal standing. The small number of black female attorneys facedeven greater challenges than the men. The experiences of the featured attorneys are fascinating, and they make readers hunger for stories of the hundreds of other Jim Crow–era black attorneys.
Although civil rights lawyers occupy a central place in our nation’s history, the nuances of their own position with regard to race, class, and professional stature bear closer examination. In this compelling new book, Mack recreates their individual and collective struggles and the triumphs that defined an era.
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. It is a truly wonderful book.
A stunning reinterpretation of civil rights history for a twenty-first century audience, bringing to vivid life both famous and forgotten historical lawyers. Anyone who wishes to understand race relations in our modern era, including the racial politics that surrounds our first African American president, should read this book.
Representing the Race is a wonderful excavation of the first era of civil rights lawyering, the product of prodigious research and a keen eye for revealing detail.
Ken Mack has written a rare book that forces us to reconsider the long history of civil rights. He offers an extraordinary account of a generation of attorneys who fought against Jim Crow and for professional recognition when the odds were against them. This is a masterwork.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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