tv Book TV CSPAN September 28, 2013 9:45am-10:31am EDT
radiation hazard in one or two parts -- 2800 acres. it's a pretty big piece of property but they also did some nuclear work there for a couple decades. and there is some concern about some nuclear intimidation there, but i'm not going and i'm still feeling okay. they didn't have us where any sort of protective outfits. i think they were probably smart enough to keep us away from any of the dangerous stuff. i wanted to climb on the rocket and they wouldn't let me. thank you very much. [applause] >> you are watching booktv, nonfiction authors and books every weekend on c-span2. >> now i'm booktv from the 13th annual national book festival on the national mall in washington, d.c., harvard university law professor kenneth
mack presents his book, "representing th"representing te creation of the civil rights lawyer." well, thank you. thank you to the library of congress for inviting me, and thank you to all of you for coming. what i would like to do today is talk little bit about the book, a little bit about how i came to write it, and i'll read just a little but also and then we will take questions. so the book. the book is a biographical account of men and women who changed america. men and women who helped transform america from a country that denied basic citizenship rights to a portion of its citizens based on race to the country that we know today that embraces racial equality as one
of its core principles. it's a collective biography of a group of african-american civil rights lawyers who practice law during the era of jim crow. lawyers like thurgood marshall and a number of lesser-known figures like los angeles lawyer laura miller, polly murray who has spent some of her career here in washington, d.c., raymond alexander in philadelphia and a host of others who are not that well known. this is a story that we think we know but that we do not. in fact, we all have read a bit about this story in school but some of us read about brown v. board of education are some of us may read a biography of thurgood marshall but one things i try to show in the book is that we, this is a story that's very best mother but, in fact, we don't know much about it at all. so i spent about 10 years digging around in the library of congress and lots of other places to really reconstruct a deeply contextualized story about the men and women who
helped smash jim crow. i tried to change the way that americans think about famous figures like thurgood marshall and introduced a host of hugely unknown characters to the civil rights narrative. it's a familiar story told in an unfamiliar way. the story i try to tell in the book is the story of african-americans. african-americans across the color line, but to cross the color line meant, in fact, that at the time these were called represented negroes. this is what african-americans called themselves who did this. they cross the color line. they did something up like people were not really supposed to do. african-american lawyers came to court in an era where there were no black judges. there were no black jurors, and your job is to convince a group of white americans in the era of
jim crow to decide in favor of your clients, when the entire courtroom is a deeply prejudiced institution to so these were americans across the color line in a dispute the way people in a language that they could understand. but the same time people thought that they were supposed to be represented negroes, which meant that they were supposed to be like the rest of african-americans. so the book is about this demand, that is continually made of black people who break through a barrier that has been broken through before, that they be like the larger society, that they be unlike the rest of the race but, in fact, that they represent the rest of the race at the same time. and in the book i talk a lot about how these lawyersse lawye struggled with this as an issue through their whole career. in fact, the book was very much written in the present.
i'm a firm believer that we alla write history in the president we rightly ask the question tha we want to hear. we want to answer.answ. and what is our present racial politics works we have racial activity itself is more a more complicated each year., racial i we have a biracial president born in hawaii who is also a ar. to all of the african-american all o traditions.he in fact wha would really want tt in the book is to show that evee in the era of jim crow come inae and in which race was supposed to be fixed and we knew it was black and who is white. b we knew which boxes they all went to. we all know which schools they were supposed to go to. even in that era, race was fluin and lots of people stepped fluid across the color lines and found that the expectations of blacks and whites and among the people whope did this were african-american civil rights cil rights l
so let me do one more thing to let me get a little bit about how i came to write it, because this is all about writing.tiva it's about books but it's about books. po love and i love books, and i loveooks i lovng this a book. ttelemetry levitt about how i came to write it and i'm going to read just a t little bit and then we'll take questions. well, as some of you know, i'm a lawyer. i'm a law professoras at harvar i went to law school but i to l graduated about 20 years ago. we i havent talked a number of peoe are now doing interesting things obama.e, like barack obama. and like most of my classmates i spent the next couple of decades just working, working, working trying to get something accomplished, trying to do something good in the world and trying to get my career started and i don't know, around 2006 i was a tenured professor at
harvard and i had this book contract to write a book about civil rights lawyers get into what he did was something that people at my station in career don't usuallyth do, and i sat dy and i thought for a while. i said it's been about a year and i'm thinking, how did i want to write the book? i begin to think who was i began arriving at fort? who is my audience?ce? who did i admire? whose writing sound really, ridn really enthralled me? one the people i admired was th? person you heard just now, pe taylor branch. you're hear and what was my own style? m were objectives for the book? i took a positive from this treadmill but i was on, and i i paused fro began to ask all of these a questions that you're not realle supposed to ask of yourself at this stage of your career, but this is one of the things that tenure is for ticket allows you to ask questions without
thinking that you're going to get fired the nextthin year. so i did this and i came up witp a book tickets a very different book than the one i set out to right at the beginning. as i first start riding can it' a journey to very different book from the one i set out to right at the beginning. right at the beginning. i began to see things, practice laws during jim crow and most people haven't seen before. i began to see these stories i wanted to tell. let me do one more thing before we do questions. let me read a little bit because i thought a lot about how i wanted to tell the story. how i wanted to relate it, how i wanted to draw the reader in and who exactly i wanted the book to appeals to. let me read about a couple lawyers who are in the book and then we will talk. let me start with a lawyer named
john mercer langston. he was the first dean of howard law school. he was also the most prominent african-american lawyer in the nineteenth century and he had a very unusual career so let me read a little bit. john langston is only faintly remembered today although some have tried to claim him as a model for the first african-american president. in the nineteenth century it was a different matter. langston was famous. langston was one of the leading public figures of his day. he rivaled frederick douglass for prominence in black politics and earned the trust of whites that would seem notable in almost any era of american history. who was langston? langston was born in 1829 in virginia and raised in ohio and
graduated from oberlin college in an era when most americans didn't think plaques had basic citizenship rights. langston was also the son of all white slave owner and african-american woman who sent his sons to a high to get an education because they were not going to be educated in virginia. he was biracial but he was also in our language and african-american. though langston went to ohio, went to oberlin college, became a lawyer and somehow persuaded a steady stream of whites to beat a path to his door and hire him as a lawyer in ohio when ohio didn't even allow african-americans to vote. he then rose through black and white politics until he had his career by becoming the dean of howard law school and the united
states minister to haiti. links and as i argue in the book was the quintessential nineteenth century representative black man, established abolitionist minded white, a person in whom they could see a darker reflection of themselves. for them langston's seemed to personify everything the colored race might be, through office tackles of slavery--slavery and became bold citizens. is improbable journey, this journey that would see him get white clients, become dean of howard law school and u.s. minister to haiti, his improbable journey began with the decision to become a lawyer. that was key for langston, gave him the confidence to speak in public life, and allowed him to earn the trust of whites in a way he would later put to good use bet to become a lawyer, the person who believed he could represent black people had to
first prove that he was a white man because african-americans were not allowed to become lawyers in ohio. john mercer langston, who was later than i was but not looking white, was admitted to the bar as a white man. he went before a panel of judges because this is how you got admitted to the bar back then, they examine you, assessed your fitness to become a lawyer, you are learning in law and he was very fit, he learned a lot but there was one problem, he was black. the lawyer who proposed him caught up and he proposed a solution and the chief judge asked where is mr. langston and langston stood up in the courtroom, looked what he looked like and promptly swarmed in as
a white lawyer. this was a sign of how langston would rise in the world. he rose in the world by convincing whites that he was one of them. at the same time, he was the most prominent black lawyer in america. he earned the trust of whites and represented blacks. this was the kind of story i wanted to tell in the book. i tell us similar story about thurgood marshall. thurgood marshall rose to prominence in maryland because when thurgood marshall would show up in that town that nobody had ever seen a black lawyer before, nobody knew how to treat him. the solution was to treat him like a white man. not completely like a white man, it wasn't like that. but the solution was to think about marshall the way marshall could convince white lawyers and judges to do what he wanted, to
convince them that he was a representative negro as it was called. at the same time thurgood marshall was supposed to represent black people and the key to marshall's career, the key that would see him rise to the supreme court first as a litigant arguing brown vs. board of education and later as supreme court justice, was that whites could see him as somebody like them but at the same time they could see him as african-american. the book is about the stories of men and women who all have unusual, and expected, surprising stories, people like loren miller, a lawyer who practiced in los angeles, he was one of the leading lawyers who had a racially restrictive
covenant cases the challenge restrictions that kept houses from being sold to black people. but loren miller was a black lawyer, also by racial and his mother was white, his father was black, he grew up in an indian reservation in kansas and found himself in los angeles where he was that neighborhood that was half african-american and half japanese and loren miller was trying to sort this out. what did it mean to be african-american in that kind of sort of stew of race and ethnicity. and the two of them traveled to the soviet union and learned about race in the soviet union and came back to the united states thinking he was a marxist and that he was opposed to people like thurgood marshall
and charles houston and spent five years writing, writing about lawyers like thurgood marshall were selling out african-americans accusing them of being not representative and one thing i try to do in the book is life is complicated and miller's life got more complicated. he was 33 years old and by this time he was married and had a law degree and wasn't making any money and his wife and other people said you ought to practice law and miller was this person who always thought practicing law was exactly the wrong thing to do because mother was a marxist. he thought law was just this superstructure and the real struggle was the workers and as they went to practice law and by golly likes it and he is helping
people and there are all these black people about to be thrown out of their homes in los angeles and miller is the only person who conceive them from being evicted. within six months of practicing law he changes his mind. he writes a letter to charles houston, thurgood marshall's mentor disavowing everything he had been saying for the last five years and led the old ten years later he and marshall and houston are arguing along side one another in the supreme court in the racially restricted covenant cases so these other kinds of stories i try to tell in the book. at deeply complicated lives of african-american lawyers. ..
the one person who more than anyone i would say is responsible for sex discrimination being against the law. because polly murray was a lawyer. she was in 1944 graduate of howard law school, and around the time she graduate from law school she came up with this idea she called jane crow. schoe game will, jane crow sounds bill som referred. it sounds like jim crow.lmed jim that was her idea. there was something other calle jim crow, race segregation which lots of people are trying to ntrary show was contrary to law.there w there was something after she ll said called jane crow.
crow sex segregation and she argued it was more or less the same thing. it was a radical thing to say in 1944. let me just read a little bit how pauley murray came to have this radical idea that effects all of us today. in the fall of 1941, she arrived in washington, d.c., for her first year of study at howard law school. wanting nothing more than to represent her race and struggles with segregation. she described her civil righted a vote -- ed a vote she was egger to demonstrate it. on the path to law was a simple trip south the previous year to see a relative which lead to her arrest aboarded a segregated but in virginia. after her arrest, the ncaap lawyers came to defend per.
she loved what she saw. she loved seeing lawyer like thurgood marshall and she decided she wanted to be one of them. the following year she became her study at howard law school and earned top honor. she was the number one student in the 1944 graduating school. she joined the lawyers. it was a tradition at howard number one graduate would go one way or another work for the ncaap. murray was, at best, a representative woman, not a representative man. and the civil rights courtroom was off limits to women. there were no women civil rights lawyers. in fact, murray was a poor choice even as a representative woman of her race. she arrived at howard in the middle of a personal crisis. behind the confident assad was a middle in a middle of crisis
identity. in a world in which people had to identify as black or white, murray thoughtsha she was a little bit different. she came from this family where she said it was a united nations. every color was represented. she had a lot of family members who could pass for white. she was one of the darker members of her family subpoena -- she struggled with where she fit. she was born in north carolina. she struggled with racial lines. more importantly, in a world in which people had to identify as men or women, she felt as though she was something else. she felt as if she were a man trapped in a woman's body. many people today call this transgender, she didn't have that kind of language. but she was a civil rights lawyer, and she tried to use
civil rights law to describe her own struggle with identity. she was a woman who wanted do the things that men did. including become a civil rights lawyer. she never went work for the naacp. she was disappointed in that, but what she came up with was the idea that the barriers that kept her out of the civil rights courtroom were just like the barriers that kept african-americans out of thing -- places reserved for whites. at first, almost no one believed her. 1944, even her professor at howard didn't really believe her. sex discrimination wasn't a word then; right? jay crow, people couldn't figure it out. she kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing. twenty years later people dwan to believe her including a
lawyer named ruth bader ginsburg who cited her as one of the principle influences on her when she finally convinced the u.s. supreme court to recognize sex discrimination as a constitutional claim. in 1944, almost no one believed murray when she said jane crow was like jim crow. the years passed more and more people did. okay. so these are the kinds of stories i tell in the book. storieses of a complicated lives of african-american lawyer under jim crow. stories of men and women who changed the world around them. stories of men and women who struggled with their own particular crises, problems of identity. stories men and women struggle with the question what it meant to represent a race. i troy to tell them as stories, as wonderful, human stories.
i spent a lot of time thinking about and i hope you'll read about them. thank. [applause] so now i think we're supposed to have questions, comments, and -- am i -- should i moderate? sure. do we have a mirk phone -- we have two microphones. we will alternate. i'll start with the gentleman in the dark blue. >> hi. first, congratulations on this book. i think so you done this country a favor with your -- [inaudible] >> thank you. >> i'm wondering, well, two questions. first, could you talk a little bit about the political affiliation and affiliations and identities that some of these lawyers, like, who were liberals, socialists, communists, republicans like bill coleman.
also, i'm wondering in addition to muir i are if there were any of the lawyers whom you wrote about who were lesbian or transgender or gay, and if that inflected their work in any way? >> okay. good questions. one, politics. so, you know, civil rights -- you know, by the 1960s, the middle of 1960s, you know, the civil rights became very identified with the democratic party, but as the questioner remarkinged, you know, these lawyer ran the gamete from -- there's a lawyer named benjamin davis in the book. she was a -- he was a harvard law school got beat up in the first civil rights trial in georgia and. he joined the --
he was alienated. they went from him all the lawyers very, very conservative. there's bill coleman, who is actually quite old now. published his autobiography a couple of years ago but secretary of transportation for ford. they ran the gamete. second question is about sexual identity. you know, it is hard to know. i wondered a lot about muir i -- murray. i have two pictures in the book, i use them there's a picture of her graduating from high school. she a 1920s woman with that kind of outfit. there's a picture of her five years later she looks like a boy. she has short hair. she's really thin, and i always wondered. but the reason i know is because she kept a diary, and she wrote it down.
she also went to see a bunch of doctors. she didn't have the language to describe what she was. she went to a doctor, she wrote down what the doctors told her. with her, you know, you've got it. but with those people, you don't. so there are deep and complicated stories -- i think her story is more complicated than most people. there are deep and complicated story out there that we just don't know because people didn't write it down. and if she hadn't written it down in a diary, i would look at the pictures pictures with, think about, but never know. the gentleman in the yellow. >> during the 2008 election, some comments were -- i don't think they were meant for public, but they kind of got out to the press, majority leader reid -- and i think then senator i'd
biden said some comments like, oh, senator obama, he's okay. he's clean cut, and in effect he's not al sharpton. [laughter] and so when i was listening to you talk about the representative, african-american lawyers, i started to think this sound pretty similar, and that the president is in some ways still having to live in multiple world. how do you -- do you see any similarities in term of the president and the people that you write about? >> very good question. and, you know, i write history in the present. you look at the past through the lens of the present. i'm writing about the past trying to take people seriously in their own con technical. clearly you are inspired by things in the present. i was not inspired by barack obama, he did -- we did go to school together. i think i was inspired by a larger set of questions that
have a lot to do with the world we're in. color line are being broken. we not only have an african-american president, but we have african-americans as heads of major corporation. you know, during the financial crisis, one of the people who was heads of one of the wall street banks almost went over was a guy named stanley o'neal. we live in a world which racial barriers are falling, and i think it's always been true that breakthrough african-americans are always negotiating all of these demands, you know. are you, like, are you represented of the institution? the presidency, or -- investment bank, the larger world, or are you, quote, unquote, representative of african-american. are you more authentically black. the question about obama. is he authentically black? i think it's a wrong question. it's a question asked about
african-americans -- breakthrough african-american like thurgood marshall. going all the way back. clearly i'm inspired by thing like that. not directly by obama, but, you know, in the book i do mention obama at the end. i mention clarence thomas at the end. i think they are in the middle in which they're in a world where african-americans are not expected to go, and at the same time, they're in a world in which people demand they be authentic, and they are struggling with that. and one of the things i try to show in the book that kind of struggle isn't new. it goes back to the civil rights era before. go ahead. >> i read that you were an electrical engineer with bill -- an integrated circuit design. >> yes. >> what made you change your career so dramatically? >> yeah. i started my career as an electrical engineer. i was an electrical engineer
because, i guess, i was good in math and science and, you know, particularly if you're a minority you're good in math and science. everybody says you should be a engineer. my father is actually an engineer. it was the biggest influence on my entire life, and i majored in the wrong thing in college. that's really the real lesson. i majored in engineer, i worked as an engineer. it wasn't for me. i didn't love it. in my job what i do today, i get up every day, and i love what i do. i wish everybody could feel that way about work. but i didn't love it, and i went to law school just because i wanted to do something different. so, you know, as said, i think, you know, i like the way things have turned out. i like my career, and it's all the product of a mistake. that's how life is, sometimes. >> yes.
a couple of weeks ago we were here celebrating the march on washington, and we are remieshed there had would not have been a president obama without a dr. king. and i'm convince there had wouldn't have been a dr. king without began i did. i'm wondering for the people you studied have self-conscious they were being part of a long-term movement development of nonviolate civil resistance as an instrument for social change. >> this is very interesting. the question about nonviolation and began i ghandi ideas were circulating in the united by the late '30s. some of the lawyers in the book were deeply influenced by them. in particular murray. when murray -- she became a lawyer after she got arrested on this bus in virginia in 1940, and she was arrested on the bus because she
thought she was practices began ghandi sis obedience. she was in a circle reading about ghandi and thinking about how to put in practice in united. she went to virginia and thought, you know, she would do this on the bus. not only did she did it on the bus, she came to court and testified she thought she was practicing ghandi and nonviolence. she became really, really enthralled with the courtroom, and yes, so she was very influenced by. it some people weren't. but even lawyers who aren't so much in the book, harris crawford, the administration briefly senator from pennsylvania. was also ?b he went to howard law school. he's the white man went to howard law school. howard had white students all the way back. and she he was very influenced
by ghandi nonviolence. after getting out of law school writing a memo to thurgood marshall saying you thought do it. marshall twhawnt sympathetic. so lots of people in the book were influenced. some people in the book were influenced by began i -- ghandi and ideas and others were not. who is next? >> hell -- hello what are the current civil rights issues facing african-americans today? >> i think civil rights -- i actually have a new book about this it's called "the new black; what is changing what is not, race of america." in the book i and a bunch of other people argue the civil rights issue of today are not the civil rights ideas of a generation -- excuse me the civil rights issues are not the civil rights issues are those of generation
ago. in some ways they are, some ways they are not. i would think the biggest civil rights issue right now is the fact that an entire generation of african-american men are essentially being sent to prison and no one seems to care. [applause] it isn't a civil rights issue like a generation ago. there's no -- not outright discrimination. in fact, there's lots of stuff that looks a little bit like discrimination that helped it to happen. we have basically very little public policy trying to address this. every now and then; right, so it's not an accident, you know. erick holder is the first
african-american attorney general. it's not an accident holder has been, you know, he announced the policy not long ago, you know, essentially that this part of justice is going to not try to put as many people in jail even when the law seems to require they send someone to jail. there are people that worry about it. there are people trying to get -- with it. we're in a huge debate about pots education right now. it's about how to improve schools, and i think if you could do two things, if you could get black men to graduate from high school and go college, you dramatically decrease the likelihood of winding up in the criminal justice system. if you do thing two things,
improve the quality of education, and prevent some people from going to jail you get something -- you get an incredible -- okay. i'll say one last thing. in my other book, there's one statistic in the book between about 19 -- let's say 1975 and 1995. in 1995, if you're a black man with some degree of college education, you are less likely to go to prison than you were in 1975. in 1995, if you're a black man without a high school diploma, something like, i don't know, i'm going get it wrong. it's something like four times as likely to go to prison as you were in 1975. that's with a we've done.
that's what we did in twenty years, and the number one civil rights issue today is undo that. >> thank you. [applause] excellent presentation, by the way. what take away or lessons do you think modern public interest lawyers, which is the new term of civil rights lawyer, can take from the figure you wrote about? do you think the economic crisis, the lack of funding for public interest organizations, and the high student loan rates is lowering the number of people that go in to civil rights law as a practice? >> okay. , you know, lessons for present civil rights lawyer. one of the thing i try talk about in the book is that all of the way back, civil rights lawyers be question that marshall spoke with his enthat marshall spoke with his entire career how to be representative,
and what i do in the book is i make representation to a question. he struggled with, am i representing the larger group? what is my relationship to the larger group? to some extent, being a lawyer meant that he was different. his key to the system was being different from the african-american. that's why white lawyers and judges could accept him in court. that's why he could win. and i think this is something that, you know, public interest lawyers struggle with today; right? you're representing a group, sometimes a member of the group. sometimes not a member of the group, but what is that relationship between the lawyer, the advocate, the person who has greater access to the legal system representing all of these people who don't? there's not a right answer to that, but it's just always have a question you have to keep asking you're.
okay. second half of the question was the -- sorry. give me the second half of the question. >> the second half was asking whether or not you think there are going to be fewer people entering to the civil rights field. >> two things, right. we're in the middle of madness right now. i should say this. the federal government is going to shut down on october 1st, maybe. probably, i think. and if it doesn't shut down on october 1st. on october 15th, the federal government will lose its ability to borrow. and there's a bill in congress cut, you know, millions of dollars from food stamps. and those kinds of public policies disportion nately impact the ability to offer
legal services to people who can't afford them. the ability to offer health care, the ability to offer a variety of social services to a wide group of americans when we are struggling to get out of a recession. so the short an to the question is, yeah, i mean, resources for public interest advocacy of any kind have been dwindling over the past generation, public resources. we're in the middle of something that is crazy. it's not too strong of a word for it. the craziness -- [applause] the craziness disportion nately affect those who are in most need of those services. and it's not just racial minorities. lots of people in america will be affected by the mad thank we're in.
and i -- i'm not going say anything more poignant that that. we're in the a nonpat dan gathering. >> you speak very eloquently in regard to the civil rights movement, thank you for that. my question is this; have you ever done any research about those people who have advocated throughout the judicial process. advocating for civil rights who are not lawyers? >> i'm sorry. not lawyers? yes. >> yes. >> okay. the pro-say civil litigant on behalf of the public interest? >> i i haven't done a lot of research on pro-say litigants. i haven't done a lot of research on people who are not lawyers. social movements. lot of people doing that kind of work. it's very needed, you know, you
can only do so much in one book. i kind of do something in one book. i agree 100% with the rest of the question. it's something that we -- i'm a historian. we struggle with it because the people easy to write about, easiest to write about are the people who are the most education, the people who leave paper behind, the people who leave some mark of their presence. and very hard to write about other folks. but we have to. i think we are at time? so thank you for a wonderful set of question. [applause] [applause]
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