Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer


Representing the Race

Kenneth W. Mack

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

March 5, 2012

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Washington Post Top Fifty Nonfiction Book of the Year

Honorable Mention, J. Willard Hurst Award, Law and Society Association

National Book Festival Selection

Finalist, Julia Ward Howe Award, Boston Authors Club

Richly compelling and impressively astute...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, Washington Post)

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. (Andrew Losowsky, Huffington Post)

Representing the Race is a masterful, compelling, and important book. Mack writes in vivid, memorable prose, and he artfully narrates stories that illuminate his themes in complex yet clear terms.  It is a good read. (Michael McCann, Tulsa Law Review)

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. (Randall L. Kennedy, Author of The Persistence Of The Color Line: Racial Politics And The Obama Presidency)

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. (Doris Kearns Goodwin, Author of Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln)

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. (Vernon Jordan)

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. (Thomas J. Sugrue, Author of Sweet Land Of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle For Civil Rights In The North)

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. (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois Institute For African And African American Research, Harvard University)

Mack calls himself an historian, and his book has all the elements of a good work of history—a strong story, memorable personalities, and intriguing rivalries, all built on extensive and compelling research. And reflecting the book’s focus on the law, it also contains wonderful courtroom scenes. We hope you’ll find Representing the Race as interesting and provocative as we do. (Lissa Muscatine & Bradley Graham, Politics and Prose)

Provide[s] the promising opportunity . . . to look backward and ahead in order to help steer the next generation of civil rights lawyers. (Yale Law Journal)

[A]mong Mack's many virtues as a writer is his power of empathetic identification. Again and again, he captures the dilemmas of the figures he studies as they experience the competing demands of performing in the role of representative African American, on the one hand, and of lawyer in a society in which this position has traditionally been reserved for whites only, on the other. . .  Representing the Race is a narrative tour de force. (Susan Carle, Law and Social Inquiry)

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...These groundbreakers struggled to establish their identity as professional attorneys within the legal community, courtroom, and larger society. . . 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. (J. P. Dunn, Choice)

Although Mack’s book is a work of legal history, he says it’s clear from the questions posed about the loyalty and identity of the most established black lawyers—Justice Clarence Thomas and President Barack Obama ’91, for example—that these issues are very much alive today. (Emily Newburger, Harvard Law Bulletin)