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May 4, 2012

Kenneth W. Mack

Harvard Book Store and The W.E.B. Du Bois Institute are pleased to welcome Harvard Law School's KENNETH W. MACK for a discussion of his new book, Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer.


Representing the Race tells the story of an enduring paradox of American race relations, through the prism of a collective biography of African American lawyers who worked in the era of segregation. Practicing the law and seeking justice for diverse clients, they confronted a tension between their racial identity as black men and women and their professional identity as lawyers. Both blacks and whites demanded that these attorneys stand apart from their racial community as members of the legal fraternity. Yet, at the same time, they were expected to be “authentic”—that is, in sympathy with the black masses. This conundrum, as Kenneth W. Mack shows, continues to reverberate through American politics today. 

Mack reorients what we thought we knew about famous figures such as Thurgood Marshall, who rose to prominence by convincing local blacks and prominent whites that he was—as nearly as possible—one of them. But he also introduces a little-known cast of characters to the American racial narrative. These include Loren Miller, the biracial Los Angeles lawyer who, after learning in college that he was black, became a Marxist critic of his fellow black attorneys and ultimately a leading civil rights advocate; and Pauli Murray, a black woman who seemed neither black nor white, neither man nor woman, who helped invent sex discrimination as a category of law. The stories of these lawyers pose the unsettling question: what, ultimately, does it mean to “represent” a minority group in the give-and-take of American law and politics?

About Author(s)

Kenneth W. Mack is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he has taught since the 2000-01 academic year. He teaches courses on Property Law, American Legal History, Civil Rights History and the Legal Construction of Racial Identity. He is the author of a number of scholarly articles, and is a book entitled Representing the Race: Creating the Civil Rights Lawyer, 1920-1955. Prior to pursuing his Ph.D. studies in history, he was a law clerk for Federal District Judge Robert L. Carter of the Southern District of New York, as well as a trial and appellate litigator at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. During the first national elections in post-apartheid South Africa, he served as co-area director of election monitoring for the United States and Canada. Before turning to law, he pursued a career as an Electrical and Computer Engineer where he designed Computer Integrated Circuits at A.T. & T. Bell Laboratories.