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When Critical Race Theory Meets Legal History

23 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2008  

Bernie D. Jones

Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts


Critical race theorists with interests in contemporary civil rights often look for inspiration in history. In order to understand the state of civil rights in the present, they look for the roots of unfair treatment and inequality in the past, operating under the proposition that discovery and understanding of the legal rules at the foundation of current conditions are imperative for finding remedies. But although many critical race theorists do historical work, not all who do are historians, leading to tensions over methodology.* This essay seeks to explain some of the early trends in historical work within critical race theory that remain influential today. It will assess some of the recent legal scholarship on slavery and reparations as examples of the intersections between critical race theory historical work, and legal historical work that uses critical race theory. It will relate the significance of critical legal studies to methodological debates within the field of legal history and demonstrate that the ostensible tensions between the work of legal historians and critical race theorists interested in history are superficial and reconcilable.

*For example, Professor Richard Delgado on the panel "Critical Race Theory at the Crossroads" raised the issue of "conservative historians'" perspective on "presentism," their apparent reluctance to view historical actors through a contemporary lens.

Suggested Citation

Jones, Bernie D., When Critical Race Theory Meets Legal History. Rutgers Race and the Law Review, Vol. 8, p. 1, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Bernie D. Jones (Contact Author)

Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts ( email )

138 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02111
United States

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