Lawyers, Law, and the New Civil Rights History
25 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2013 Last revised: 24 Jun 2013
Date Written: June 1, 2013
This essay reviews "Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer" by Kenneth W. Mack. The essay first describes Mack’s collective biography of African American lawyers who struggled to succeed in a largely white legal profession. It highlights the paradox of representation that Mack identifies, showing how African American lawyers experienced conflicting pressures to make themselves whiter in order to succeed professionally while maintaining the racial authenticity that allowed their successes to reflect well on the race as a whole. The essay then shows how Representing the Race is the most recent entry into a growing new field of civil rights history. It describes the contours of the field and its key characteristics. These include decentering the Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education, and the NAACP’s campaign for school desegregation and including many more actors involved in the process of legal change; taking a prospective rather than retrospective approach to the past; emphasizing lawyers as particularly important intermediaries between the legal claims of lay actors and legal doctrine as constructed by courts; identifying the importance of class and economic issues to the ways in which various groups of lay and professional legal actors interacted with and understood the law; taking legal doctrine seriously but viewing it as a field of contestation rather than the authoritative output of judges; and finally, as a result of these other shifts in focus, highlighting the contingency of the law-creation process. Finally, the essay explores Mack’s engagement with this new field. It concludes that his collective biography reinforces some of the literature’s key conclusions, most notably how lawyers’ situated choices channeled, transformed, and perhaps limited civil rights doctrine and the shape of civil rights law.
Keywords: race, civil rights, legal history, lawyers, lawyering, legal profession, Jim Crow, civil rights history, class, clients, lawyer-client relationships
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