Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement

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In this Bancroft Prize-winning history of the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta from the end of World War II to 1980, Tomiko Brown-Nagin shows that long before "black power" emerged and gave black dissent from the mainstream civil rights agenda a name, African Americans in Atlanta questioned the meaning of equality and the steps necessary to obtain a share of the American dream. This groundbreaking book uncovers the activism of visionaries—both well-known figures and unsung citizens—from across the ideological spectrum who sought something different from, or more complicated than, "integration." Local activists often played leading roles in carrying out the agenda of the NAACP, but some also pursued goals that differed markedly from those of the venerable civil rights organization. Brown-Nagin documents debates over politics, housing, public accommodations, and schools. Exploring the complex interplay between the local and national, between lawyers and communities, between elites and grassroots, and between middle-class and working-class African Americans, Courage to Dissent transforms our understanding of the Civil Rights era.

Winner of the 2012 Bancroft Prize

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Winner of the 2012 Bancroft Prize

Winner of the 2012 Liberty Legacy Foundation Award from the Organization of American Historians

"Courage to Dissent is quite simply the best legal history of the civil rights movement. Although centered on Atlanta, it offers the most comprehensive account of movement mobilization and legal change in the civil rights era in the scholarship today. No other legal scholar has gone as far in telling the story of the movement on such a grand scale... This is a compelling and challenging book. Brown-Nagin's book stands as one of the small number of essential texts in the field of modern American legal history. — Christopher W. Schmidt, Vanderbilt Law Review

"A magnificent achievement, brilliantly analyzing significant tensions within the civil rights movement: between different classes, generations, local and national actors, proponents of direct action and litigation, clients and lawyers. Elegantly written, prodigiously researched, and compellingly extraordinary contribution."—Michael J. Klarman, Harvard Law School, and winner of the 2005 Bancroft Prize for From Jim Crow to Civil Rights

"A masterpiece of rigorous scholarship, careful analysis and good old-fashioned story-telling." —Lani Guinier, Professor of Law, Harvard University

"An absolutely compelling study of the tangled history of civil rights in Atlanta following World War II.... No one interested in the actual operation of our fragmented legal system can ignore it, not to mention anyone interested in finding out more about the remarkable cast of characters who contended with one another in trying to shape the future of the South's most important city." —Sanford Levinson, Professor of Law and Government, University of Texas

"An original and convincing approach to the legal history of the civil rights era, a fresh perspective on the Atlanta movement, and a model for integrating the national and local histories of civil rights struggles." —Journal of American History

"Excellent, exhaustively researched... Courage to Dissent is a fascinating and fresh look at the legal history of the civil rights movement and should become a standard work in the field." —Journal of Southern History

Publishers Weekly
In this exhaustively researched account of the civil rights movement, history and law professor Brown-Nagin focuses on the consequential roles of “lesser-known lawyers and organizers, litigators and negotiators, elites and the grassroots.” The interests and methods of individuals and local groups, where intraracial and class-based conflicts emerge, differ from and, at times, challenge, national groups like the NAACP and the Legal Defense Fund. Brown-Nagin’s work recounts the Atlanta experience from the early 1950s, as Brown v. Topeka Board of Education moves through the court and community, to the 1970s, as issues of voting rights, housing, education, transportation, and public recreational space are faced locally, where “pragmatic civil rights... privileged politics over litigation, placed a high value on economic security, and rejected the idea that integration (or even desegregation) and equality were one and the same.” Brown-Nagin’s meticulous, densely written account explores both little-known lives and less discussed litigations in a manner both accessible and scholarly. Even if there is a whiff of the dissertation, its “from the bottom” account adds depth and freshness as well as some controversy to a moment in history about which, the author makes clear, there is much more to know. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Brown-Nagin puts her combined academic expertise in law and history to work in this detailed study of the struggle to end Jim Crow in the South as reflected in the work of activists in Atlanta from the end of World War II through the 1970s.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199932016
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/1/2012
  • Pages: 608
  • Sales rank: 638,179
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Tomiko Brown-Nagin is Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. She also is Professor of History, affiliated with Harvard University's Department of History. Brown-Nagin earned a law degree from Yale University, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal, and a doctorate in history from Duke University.

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Table of Contents

Part One: A.T. Walden and Pragmatic Civil Rights Lawyering in the Postwar Era
1. "Aren't Going to let a Nigger Practice in our Courts": The Milieu of Civil Rights Pragmatism
2. The Roots of Pragmatism: Voting Rights Activism inside and outside the Courts, 1944-1957
3. Housing Markets, Black and White: Negotiating the Postwar Housing Crisis, 1944-1959
4. "Segregaton Pure and Simple": School, Community, and the NAACP's Education Litigation, 1942-1958
5. More than "Polite Segregation": Brown in Public Spaces, 1954-1959
Part Two: The Movement, Its Lawyers, and the Fight for Racial Justice during the 1960s
6. Seeking Redress in the Streets: The Student Movement's Challenge to Racial Pragmatism and Legal Liberalism, 1960-1961
7. A Volatile Alliance: The Marriage of Lawyers and Demonstrators, 1961-1964
8. Local People as Agents of Constitutional Change: The Movement against "Private" Discrimination and the Countermobilization, 1963-1964
9. "New Politics": Law, Organizing, and a "Movement of Movements" in the Southern Ghetto, 1965-1967
Part Three: Questioning Brown: Lawyers, Courts, and Communities in Struggle
10. A Curious Silence: Community Activism and the Legal Campaign to Implement Brown, 1958-1971
11. An End to an "Annual Agony": The Backlash against Brown and Busing, 1971-1974
12. "Bus them to Philadelphia": A Feminist Lawyer and Poor Mothers Crusade to Redeem Brown, 1972-1980

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