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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
Chapter 6: A Woman in a Fraternity of Lawyers
On July 22, 1939, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia took a break from his duties at the city’s World’s Fair building to conduct a routine swearing-in of a local judge, and quickly saw his actions splashed across the pages of black newspapers from coast to coast. The story even made it into the white dailies in New York and Los Angeles, and for good reason, because the appointment made a little-known assistant corporation counsel named Jane Bolin into the nation’s first black woman judge. When Bolin assumed her duties on the city’s Domestic Relations Court the following week, the excitement had barely subsided. Reporters trailed her for days before she took up her post, and groups of well wishers applauded as she took her seat in the Manhattan branch of the court. Flowers and telegrams crowded her desk, and a veteran judge introduced her to the crowd with an emotional speech hailing her appointment as an example of why “[p]eople come here from the four corners of the world” to make new lives for themselves. Black judges were not unknown in the city. Nor were women judges a complete novelty there. But observers around the country seemed to invest special significance in the appointment of the 31-year-old Yale Law School graduate to the bench, and this would continue until Bolin’s death in 2007. For blacks and whites alike, Bolin’s appointment made her something not seen before on the American landscape—a black woman lawyer as representative of an entire race’s aspirations.
Black women lawyers meshed uneasily with the American narrative of minority group representation, and their struggle to figure out where they belonged in that story would eventually help create sex discrimination as a modern category of American law. Certain well-educated black women had long been claimed as “representative women of the race,” but the story, for the most part, centered on what nineteenth-century Americans had called “representative colored men.” Of late, lawyers like Charles Houston, Raymond Alexander and Thurgood Marshall had inserted themselves into that narrative by performing like white men in court, and being folded into the local fraternity of white lawyers. Common profession norms held local fraternities of lawyers together, and that the provided a space for black men to cross over into the white world and stand in for something much larger then themselves.
Bolin’s appointment to the municipal court prompted two up-and-coming black women lawyers to take up the question of just how they fit into the fraternity of lawyers. Philadelphia lawyer Sadie Alexander found enough inspiration in Bolin’s achievement to begin drafting an article about the struggles of black women lawyers, and to rededicate herself to a career that would see her become a nationally-important civil rights leader. Yet, if Alexander took inspiration from Bolin, she read her own successes, for the most part, as a story of racial advancement. The language of modern feminism would remain foreign to Sadie Alexander to the end of her days. In New York, a 28-year old black woman named Pauli Murray also took inspiration from Bolin’s success, as well as from Houston and Marshall’s early courtroom victories, and decided to cast her lot in with law. She would soon enter law school at Howard University, and wanted nothing more than to perform like a white man in a civil rights courtroom. Like Alexander, Murray would find law to be a disorienting profession for a black woman lawyer. But Murray would connect that sense of displacement to a nascent feminist consciousness that two decade later would make her a pivotal figure in the creation of sex discrimination as a category of modern American law.
Introduction: The Problem of Race and Representation 1
1 The Idea of the Representative Negro 12
2 Racial Identity and the Marketplace for Lawyers 38
3 The Role of the Courtroom in an Era of Segregation 61
4 A Shifting Racial Identity in a Southern Courtroom 83
5 Young Thurgood Marshall Joins the Brotherhood of the Bar 111
6 A Woman in a Fraternity of Lawyers 131
7 Things Fall Apart 154
8 The Strange Journey of Loren Miller 181
9 The Trials of Pauli Murray 207
10 A Lawyer as the Face of Integration in Postwar America 234
Conclusion: Race and Representation in a New Century 265