Law and Mass Politics in the Making of the Civil Rights Lawyer, 1931-1941

Journal of American History, June 2006

26 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2008  

Kenneth W. Mack

Harvard Law School

Abstract

What was the role of law and lawyers in the civil rights movement? Recent work has emphasized a tension between the legal strategies of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a commitment to mass movement politics and economic populism. This article takes up that question by examining the everyday lives and litigation performances of depression-era black lawyers affiliated with the NAACP, arguing that the scholarly debate should be reframed through attention to the role of courtroom performances as crucial sites where race and professional identity was made and remade for civil rights lawyers such as Charles Houston, Raymond Pace Alexander, William Hastie, and Thurgood Marshall. Responding to the critics on their left, the lawyers fashioned a new professional identity that melded the NAACP's traditional approaches and concerns with a commitment to mass democratic politics.

Keywords: Civil Rights, Civil Rights Lawyers, Legal History, Constitutional History, African American Lawyers, Communism, Scottsboro Boys, Charles Hamilton Houston, Raymond Pace Alexander, William Hastie, Thurgood Marshall

JEL Classification: J71, J70, K31, K41

Suggested Citation

Mack, Kenneth W., Law and Mass Politics in the Making of the Civil Rights Lawyer, 1931-1941. Journal of American History, June 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1140962

Kenneth W. Mack (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/facdir.php?id=117

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