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From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality

4.7 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195129038
ISBN-10: 0195129032
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Klarman, a constitutional law professor, offers a highly accessible analysis of the interplay between the Supreme Court and U.S. race relations. While focusing on particular legal decisions, he looks at the broader context, the social, political, and international forces that have influenced the path of racial progress from the turn of the nineteenth century, when segregation was the law of the land, until it was outlawed by the Brown decision. Klarman points to countervailing forces that impacted the ruling and might even have brought about the same end. Those forces included the civil rights movement, political power shifts of the black northern demographic, and competition for the hearts and minds of Third World nations during the cold war. Klarman reflects on litigation as a form of protest and education in the civil rights era but suggests that the Brown decision may have been more detrimental than beneficial because it galvanized white opposition to desegregation. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Michael J. Klarman's monumental book--undertaking a sweeping exploration of the causes and consequences of all of the Supreme Court's race decisions from Plessy v. Ferguson to Brown vs. Board of Education--is likely to become the definitive study of the Supreme Court and race in the first half of the twentieth century. As a narrative history of the Court's actions on the broad array of constitutional issues relevant to racial equality--from criminal procedure to voting rights to desegregation--the book is an invaluable resource."--Reviews in American History

"Klarman's scholarly text is unique in that it encompasses not only the decision itself, but also the events before and after."--Elaine Cassel, author of The War on Civil Liberties

"This luminous study explores the relationship between the Supreme Court and the quest for racial justice.... a sweeping, erudite, and powerfully argued book that, despite its heft, is unfailingly interesting."--Wilson Quarterly

"Michael Klarman's authoritative account of constitutional law concerning race--from the late 19th century through the 1960s--is brilliant, both as legal interpretation and as social and political history. While the book deals with a wide range of racially charged issues--criminal procedure, peonage, transportation, residential segregation, and voting rights--it focuses with especially keen insights on the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954. From Jim Crow to Civil Rights is a magisterial accomplishment." --James T. Patterson, Bancroft Prize-winning author of Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (Oxford, 1996)

"Michael Klarman's exhaustively researched study is essential reading for anyone interested in civil rights, the Supreme Court, and constitutional law. Accessible to ordinary readers, students, and scholars, Klarman's book presents a challenging argument that places the Supreme Court's civil rights decisions in their social and political context, and deflates overstated claims for the importance of the Supreme Court's work while identifying carefully the precise contributions the Court made to race relations policy from 1896 through the 1960s."--Mark Tushnet, author of Taking the Constitution Away from the Courts

"Pulling together a decade of truly magnificent scholarship, this extraordinary book bids fair to be the definitive legal history of perhaps the most important legal issue of the twentieth century. There is no one from whom I have learned more--and whom I enjoy reading more--than Michael Klarman. This is legal history at its best, and on a panoramic canvas."--Akhil Reed Amar, author of The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction

"From Jim Crow to Civil Rights is a bold, carefully crafted, deeply researched, forcefully argued, lucidly written history of law and legal-change strategies in the civil rights movement from the 1880s to the 1960s, and a brilliant case study in the power and limits of law as a motor of social change. Among the hundreds of recent books on the history of civil rights and race relations, Klarman's is one of the most original, provocative, and illuminating, with fresh evidence and fresh insights on practically every page."--Robert W. Gordon, Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and Legal History, Yale University


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195129032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195129038
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 2.1 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Charles J. Rector on July 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Michael J. Klarman's book From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality is the best book written about civil rights in America in quite some time. Klarman's book is one of the few works about the civil rights movement that analyzes the significant change that occurred in racial attitudes during 1900-1954 as well as the movement itself.

Klarman's book is a revisionist account that downplays the importance of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case. Klarman contends that there would have been a civil rights movement even if the Supreme Court had ruled the other way in Brown. Klarman believes that the conventional history gives court rulings too much credit for effecting change in America. Essentially, Klarman believes that the federal court system is actually very weak and does not affect America much in the long run.
Klarman believes, for instance, that the White Court's civil rights rulings during the Progressive Era did nothing to help blacks. Other than the Smith case of 1944, Klarman does not believe that Supreme Court rulings helped black Americans. In the Smith case, Klarman holds that it effectively opened the door for some black participation in Southern politics.
A large part of Klarman's book is devoted to debunking the idea that the Brown ruling helped speed the civil rights movement. Klarman holds that the Brown decision did little to inspire blacks to seek redress for racial grievances. He does, however, concede that the media coverage of Brown did help raise consciousness among white folks about racial injustice in the South.
Klarman's book is a revisionist account of civil rights history. It is well-written, makes its points well and is backed up by prodigious research. It deserves a wide audience.
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Format: Paperback
Professor Klarman's book is a study of the interplay between Politics, Social Forces, and legal doctrine. He's searching for the links between political realities and legal rulings. How are they shaping each other? In studying the relations between the decisions of the US Supreme Court and the reality of White-Black relations in the American South, Klarman's conclusion is that the Supreme Court's opinions are very much shaped by the social and political realities. The effect of the Supreme Court's decision on the political landscape is more subtle.

Between the 1890s and the outbreak of the Second World War, the Court's rulings became slowly but steadily more pro-blacks. The earlier decisions were epitomized by the Plessey case, which held that states were allowed to discriminate in public transportation. Only one Justice, former slave-owner John Marshall Harlan had dissented, and argued that the "constitution is color-blind". But even Harlan did not doubt the propriety of segregation in education, and neither he nor any other Justice did much to prevent Lynching, voter intimidation, all-white-Juries and a variety of other discriminatory practices.

In this, the Justices were very much men of their time, an era of unquestioned white supremacy. America was a white man's land; with the Civil War receding into distant memory, White Northerners, who faced increasing immigration of blacks, Asians, and East Europeans, did not feel compelled to intervene on behalf of Southern Blacks.

But even if the Justices were inclined to combat Jim Crow (the popular name of the racist Southern regime), there was not much they could have done. Unlike the post-World War 2 era, the Federal government was not closely engaged within Southern states.
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I will admit that I only started this book a few days ago and I am only at 5% completion (I bought it for the Kindle), but I am struggling a bit. Not with the subject matter, because I am a lawyer, but with the way in which it is written. Thus far I feel like I am reading a treatise for a civil rights course in law school. If that is the intention, then mission accomplished and I stand corrected. However, if this book was written for all who wish to be enlightened on Jim Crow and Civil Rights, I would try another text first.

The author does state up front that it is meant to be factual. And it is. It is disturbing to understand our nation's history - a history not so long ago. We are a young country and the systematic intentional disfranchisement of blacks is incredibly disturbing, especially in our judicial system and government. Though the original intent of the book may not necessarily be to incite passion, I think one may have to be emotionally dead inside not to be moved, shocked,or horrified. And ultimately thankful that the jurisprudence of our Courts (and public opinion) have evolved.

That said, I really feel there's a way to represent this information in a fashion more suited for reading than for study. When I first bought the book, I thought perhaps it was for a general audience - a way of helping the nonlawyer understand a fascinating but complex topic. Upon initial reading, I am now guessing that the target audiences are law students, scholars, lawyers, judges or perhaps government actors - not the enlightened citizen.
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