Cover: The Lost Promise of Civil Rights, from Harvard University PressCover: The Lost Promise of Civil Rights in PAPERBACK

The Lost Promise of Civil Rights

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$31.00 • £26.95 • €28.95

ISBN 9780674034693

Publication Date: 03/30/2010


384 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

9 halftones, 1 line


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In her new and intellectually stimulating book…Risa Goluboff mines the legal pre-history of Brown and unearths a long-forgotten approach—specifically, civil rights claims based on class and economic opportunity. Asking us to put aside the reverence we have for the landmark decision, Goluboff argues something that, on the surface, sounds heretical: that the full-frontal attack on Jim Crow that defined the civil rights era may not have been the best strategy for winning equality and justice… The questions raised by Goluboff are uncomfortable, but pressing: Was the NAACP’s victory in Brown a pyrrhic one? And if so, what does that mean for the last half-century of civil rights achievements?—Mary Frances Berry, Democracy Journal

Goluboff’s argument is clear and well-organized. Although she draws on a wide range of primary material and weaves together an impressive amount of scholarship from law, history, and political science, she wears her learning lightly and writes in a manner that is accessible to the non-specialist. Goluboff’s book also provides an important counterweight to the common scholarly focus on judicial decision making… Goluboff has produced a truly excellent work of legal history that elegantly demonstrates how the basic terms of modern civil rights came to be established.—Keith J. Bybee, Law & Politics Book Review

A scholar of history as well as law, Goluboff has done a significant service for all those concerned about racism’s continuing viability. Her review of the civil rights history of the 1930s and 1940s unearths the quasi-slave status of many black workers well into the twentieth century.—Derrick Bell, Virginia Law Review

This is an extraordinary book, the most important reinterpretation of the legal history of the Civil Rights Movement in many years, and one of the best first books this reviewer has ever read… This meticulously researched, beautifully written book constitutes a landmark in legal history.—S. N. Katz, Choice

The Lost Promise of Civil Rights is brilliant. It will revolutionize our understanding of civil rights, what they mean, and where they come from. The Lost Promise of Civil Rights will be widely read and debated, and it will place Goluboff at the front rank of twentieth-century American historians.—Sarah Barringer Gordon, University of Pennsylvania Law School

A marvelous book. Elegantly written, prodigiously researched, and powerfully argued, Lost Promise recreates a pre-Brown universe in which civil rights included labor rights and a commitment to economic equality. The book places Goluboff at the forefront of a new generation of legal historians devising creative and novel ways of understanding the civil rights movement.—Michael J. Klarman, author of From Jim Crow to Civil Rights

The Lost Promise of Civil Rights is original, provocative, and persuasive. By uncovering the forgotten history of the NAACP’s labor litigation, Risa Goluboff opens up new ways of thinking about the tangled connections between racial and economic justice. When it came to the working class, the civil rights movement’s march through the courts reached a dead end. This book is essential to understanding America’s still unfinished struggle for equality.—Thomas J. Sugrue, author of The Origins of the Urban Crisis

Risa Goluboff offers readers a brilliant reconceptualization of civil rights litigation. Her book deals sensitively, and better than any other work, with how open to interpretation and development the idea of civil rights was in the 1940s, and how possibilities were gradually shut down. Combining a legal-realist sense of the openness of legal arguments with a historian’s sensitivity to the way in which real lawyers make real choices, Goluboff offers a model for legal history.—Mark Tushnet, Harvard Law School

Awards & Accolades

  • Co-Winner, 2008 James Willard Hurst Prize, Law and Society Association

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