The Pragmatic Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta

Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press, 2011). Christopher Schmidt Tomiko Brown-Nagin's Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement is an exceptional work of legal history. It is at once emotionally moving, richly detailed, and consistently insightful in its exploration of the varieties of ways in which law and social activism intersect. In this "ground-level view of legal history," a diverse collection of black activists in Atlanta-lawyers and non-lawyers, elites and non-elites, men and women, young and old-take center stage. Brown-Nagin carefully chronicles the experiences of these local people, showing how they struggled not only with those who sought to defend Jim Crow, but also oftentimes with each another. At the same time, Courage to Dissent connects the local story to developments that swept across the national legal and constitutional landscape during the civil rights era. One of Brown-Nagin's great accomplishments in this book is to convey the subtleties of the shifting tensions and alliances within black Atlanta's activist community between the 1940s and 1970s, to connect this local story to the national scene, and to do all this in a narrative that is engaging and powerful. In previously published articles, Brown-Nagin has made important contributions to our understanding of the dynamics of civil rights activism and litigation. The central theme of much of this work has been an exploration of the persistent yet constantly evolving divisions within the African American community on civil rights goals and tactics, with a particular emphasis on the role of lawyers and litigation in creating and challenging these intra-racial divisions. These articles not only explode simplistic assumptions that there was a monolithic African American community united behind the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund (LDF) as it pursued its historic litigation battle against Jim Crow, they also identified a more complex matrix of fissures and tensions within black society than had previously been recognized. Continue reading "The Pragmatic Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta"

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