Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer

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Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer. By Kenneth W. Mack. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. Pp. 330. Illustrations, notes, acknowledgments, index. $35.00.)

Kenneth Mack states in his introduction that he will focus on the biographies of a few early twentieth-century African-American lawyers to examine the question of what it means to represent a race and to explore the dilemma that can create. These lawyers slowly began to gain acceptance in the white court system while representing African Americans, yet became increasingly suspect to the communities from which they emerged. While the subject does not relate directly to Arkansas or its history of African-American civil rights, Mack provides a good historical review of the efforts that educated African Americans made to convince white Americans of their equal worth as citizens.

Mack uses the experiences of lawyers like John Mercer Langston, Raymond Pace Alexander, and Charles Houston, noting they were lightskinned males educated in northern white law schools who could participate in court processes on a par with white lawyers because they "acted white" (pp. 29, 62, 84, 87, 93). It is not surprising that a group of people might be more comfortable interacting with those who look and act like them, but I do not think the author gives enough credit to the role of the white educational institutions in training these lawyers to deal with the legal system and its exacting procedures. Their acceptance by whites mostly did not extend beyond the courtroom, when it existed at all, so it was their ability to use that system as well as white lawyers did that allowed such success as there was.

Thurgood Marshall is included on the list, although he was of a younger generation. But while also light-skinned and from the middle class, Marshall did not graduate from a white institution but from Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. Marshall, Mack says, "walked a fine line," able to convince whites that he was "much like themselves," while remaining a champion to his African-American clients (p. 112). Again, Mack focuses on what he sees as Marshall's "acting white," while giving short shriftto the quality of his legal education. Mack mentions the revamping of Howard Law School by Charles Houston before Marshall's attendance, and points out that one of the effects of Houston's work was to raise the standards for admission and for teaching, but he does not make the connection that Marshall's success, and that of other Howard graduates, might have been due to the improved quality of their legal training. …