Legal History Book Review 126 Harv. L. Rev. 2312

Lawyers, Law, and the New Civil Rights History

The latest entry in the growing field of new civil rights history, in which lawyers are essential intermediaries



It is not always easy to identify a new field or a new paradigm for an old field. It can creep up on you – a book here or an article there. But there is no denying it: the legal history of civil rights is not what it used to be. Over the past several years, a number of books and a slew of articles and dissertations have coalesced around similar themes, methodological approaches, and arguments. A new civil rights history has arrived.

Professor Kenneth W. Mack’s Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer is the latest entry in this growing field. Its publication provides an occasion to identify both the contours of the new approach and its most significant lessons. In Part I, I describe Representing the Race, a poignant and nuanced collective biography of African American lawyers. In Part II, I survey the new civil rights history and its dominant characteristics. In Part III, I situate Mack’s book in the context of the new field. I first identify the ways in which Mack draws on the methodological approach of the new civil rights history. I then explore how, even where Mack does not explicitly engage the new literature, his book nonetheless reinforces many of its lessons.