Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer

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Overview

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?

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Editorial Reviews

Randall L. Kennedy
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.
Doris Kearns Goodwin
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.
Vernon Jordan
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.
Thomas J. Sugrue
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.
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
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.
Washington Post - David J. Garrow
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.
Choice - J. P. Dunn
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 faced even 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.
Huffington Post - Andrew Losowsky
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.
Washington Post

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

Library Journal
U.S. segregation created a host of paradoxes, among them the black civil rights lawyer, explains Mack (law, Harvard Law Sch.). Building on a series of law review articles, he offers a collective biography of a group of segregation-era African American attorneys. He poses, for example, the dilemma of John Mercer Langston (1829–97), Thurgood Marshall (1908–93), Loren Miller (1903–67), and Pauli Murray (1910–85), whose personal and racial identities tugged against their professional and social identities. These figures exemplified a persisting tension: standing among an elite while also standing among the masses, of arguing not only for their people but arguing also to be one of their people. Probing the precarious position of blacks in the legal profession, Mack's nuanced discussion extends J. Clay Smith, Jr.'s work (e.g., Emancipation: The Making of the Black Lawyer, 1844–1944) and connects with work on blacks in other professions, such as Darlene Clark Hine's Black Women in White, a study of black nurses. VERDICT Mack's volume offers provocative reading for students of law and the legal profession and those interested in the struggle of elite blacks not simply against segregation but for a full life in American society.—Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe
The Washington Post
Representing the Race examines the pre-Brown 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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674046870
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/17/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 595,938
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth W. Mack is Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.
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Read an Excerpt

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.

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Table of Contents

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

Notes 271

Acknowledgments 319

Index 323

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