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The Lost Promise of Civil Rights Hardcover – May 15, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0674024656 ISBN-10: 0674024656 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674024656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674024656
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,829,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Goluboff's argument is clear and well-organized. Although she draws on a wide range of primary material and weaves together an impressive amount of scholarship from law, history, and political science, she wears her learning lightly and writes in a manner that is accessible to the non-specialist. Goluboff's book also provides an important counterweight to the common scholarly focus on judicial decision making...Goluboff has produced a truly excellent work of legal history that elegantly demonstrates how the basic terms of modern civil rights came to be established. (Keith J. Bybee Law & Politics Book Review)

This is an extraordinary book, the most important reinterpretation of the legal history of the Civil Rights Movement in many years, and one of the best first books this reviewer has ever read...This meticulously researched, beautifully written book constitutes a landmark in legal history. (S. N. Katz Choice 2007-11-01)

In her new and intellectually stimulating book...Risa Goluboff mines the legal pre-history of Brown and unearths a long-forgotten approach—specifically, civil rights claims based on class and economic opportunity. Asking us to put aside the reverence we have for the landmark decision, Goluboff argues something that, on the surface, sounds heretical: that the full-frontal attack on Jim Crow that defined the civil rights era may not have been the best strategy for winning equality and justice...The questions raised by Goluboff are uncomfortable, but pressing: Was the NAACP’s victory in Brown a pyrrhic one? And if so, what does that mean for the last half-century of civil rights achievements? (Mary Frances Berry Democracy Journal 2007-09-01)

A scholar of history as well as law, Goluboff has done a significant service for all those concerned about racism’s continuing viability. Her review of the civil rights history of the 1930s and 1940s un-earths the quasi-slave status of many black workers well into the Twentieth Century. (Derrick Bell Virginia Law Review 2008-06-01)


The Lost Promise of Civil Rights is brilliant. It will revolutionize our understanding of civil rights, what they mean, and where they come from. The Lost Promise of Civil Rights will be widely read and debated, and it will place Goluboff at the front rank of twentieth-century American historians. (Sarah Barringer Gordon, University of Pennsylvania Law School)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In recent years, I find myself repeatedly returning to the insights in Goluboff's book regarding the kinds of expansive substantive rights that are possible for working people under the U.S. Constitution. To believe that the Constitution affects our lives as an unchanging document is to ignore the real drama of the struggle over what freedom will mean. Goluboff will not allow such antihistorical musings to take the place of the real history.
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5 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Rodolfo on January 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
Prof. Goluboff wishes that the civil rights movement had been one prong of the effort to radically reshape the Constitution to support radical economic goals. Behind her historical analysis lies the Marxist idea that Jim Crow laws were essentially no more than a racist sub-category of the capitalist exploitation of workers. Prof. Goluboff would have liked the civil rights lawyers of the 30s, 40s, and 50s to demand affirmative constitutional economic rights - i.e., universal entitlements to housing, salary, and other tangible goods. And she believes that such "rights" stood a chance of being recognized, even though the whole country in the 40s and 50s was growing less sympathetic to the more radical parts of the labor movement of the 20s and 30s.

In fact, Prof. Goluboff's viewpoint is similar to that of Pres. Obama, as he expressed it in 2001 in a radio interview:

"...the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society. To that extent, as radical as I think people try to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it's been interpreted, and the Warren Court interpreted in the same way, that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties."

Whatever the depth of Prof. Goluboff's research, she has used it to support a simplistic idea of the economic system, and to promote an unjustified distortion of the Constitution. There is nothing in the Constitution to support what she longs for, but, because she longs for it, she has found a way to make the Constitution require it.
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