Skip to main content
eScholarship
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Legal subversives : African American lawyers in the Jim Crow South

  • Author(s): Pye, David Kenneth
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation addresses one major theme : the nature of African American lawyers' work during Jim Crow, when the very system that created the need for their existence relied upon the myth of the innate inferiority of the race. Rather than focusing on well-known lawyers, "Legal Subversives" seeks to include lesser-known figures and local lawyers into the historiography of African Americans and the law. The inability of African Americans to enjoy access to legal educations within their states created a chasm between the African American masses and the proper level of legal representation required to address the needs of a population not long emancipated from enslavement. Previous books on lawyers have focused exclusively on elite lawyers, perhaps because of the easier availability of source material, and do not provide an adequate picture of the African American quest to attain professional credentials during Jim Crow. African American lawyers employed strategies in the Jim Crow era that provide evidence of paths not taken by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the mainstream, organized civil rights movement following Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. After Brown, civil rights became synonymous with Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims. But local lawyers' legal approaches demonstrate a much broader conception of "civil rights" than would become the norm in later decades. "Legal Subversives" is also an attempt to engage discussions of the role African American professionals, in general, held during the period of legalized discrimination based on race. Lawyers operated within a different situation than other professionals; they often had to compete directly with white adversaries. Most professionals could retreat into the segregated community, avoiding regular contact with hostile whites; in contrast, lawyers had to protect client interests in court before white judges and juries. Lawyers complicate our narrative of the professional because they held an ambivalent position among various factions, white and African American, in southern communities

Main Content
Current View