Thursday, November 15, 2012

Brown-Nagin Wins the Reid Award

Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Harvard Law School, has won the ASLH's 2012 John Phillip Reid Book Award for her book, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement.  Here is the citation:
Brown-Nagin sets out to answer the question of 'what would the story of the mid-twentieth-century struggle for civil rights look like if legal historians de-centered the U.S. Supreme Court, the national NAACP, and the NAACP LDF and instead considered the movement from the bottom up?' To answer this question, she considers the usual landmark civil rights cases but does so with a detailed examination of the actors involved in the civil rights movement in a major American city.  It is not only the officers and lawyers of the national and local organizations involved in the civil rights movement who appear in Nagin's account, but teachers, real estate agents, students, shopowners, and single mothers, among others.  Brown-Nagin highlights the class, gender, generational, and ideological differences among Atlanta's civil rights lawyers, activists, and laypeople, which fuelled responses to racial discrimination ranging from elite accommodation to civil disobedience to outright confrontation.  The result is that the legal and racial geography of Atlanta, the city that long prided itself on being "too busy to hate," has never been so vividly drawn or acutely analyzed.

From this canvas of conflict, Brown-Nagin derives fresh insights about the nature of legal change, the competing demands of the legal profession, the power of social movements, and the meaning of the postwar struggle for racial equality. In particular, she argues that litigation's ability to catalyze change is most potent when the lawyers take their cues from the movement, instead of vice versa.
Hat tip: H-Law