Trial and Triumph for Lawyers of the Civil Rights Generation

Representing Race by Kenneth W. Mack

With hundreds of thousands of books published each year, we’re always glad to discover hidden gems from smaller houses or university presses that receive little promotion but nonetheless deserve a wider audience. Such was the case with Harvard law professor Kenneth W. Mack’s new book, Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer

We had assumed that the book, published by Harvard University Press and written by a legal scholar who spent nearly a decade researching his topic, was targeted to an academic audience. How wrong we were. After Representing the Race was released in April, a customer brought it to our attention, and we have since hosted Professor Mack for a store reading and added the title to our shelf of current favorites.

The book is at once history and narrative—a “collective biography” (in the author’s words) of African American lawyers who, while helping to propel our nation forward on civil rights, had to grapple with paradoxes and ambiguities over their own racial identities. Questions of racial authenticity were paramount throughout their careers and, in a collective sense, became interwoven with the conventional American narrative about race. Even today, with an African American civil rights lawyer now occupying the presidency, black leaders still must wrestle with what it means to be a representative of a minority, not only in a courtroom and a legal system but throughout the larger society.

In examining the lives and work of the most influential African-American lawyers—including such well-known figures as John Mercer Langston, Charles Houston, and Thurgood Marshall, along with lesser known ones like Loren Miller—Mack argues for a more complete, more nuanced, and richer narrative about the roles that these extraordinary men and women played in shaping the civil rights story and the laws that grew out of it.

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.

- Brad and Lissa