The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights
In Before the Movement, acclaimed historian Dylan C. Penningroth brilliantly revises the conventional story of Black life in an unequal society. He draws on astonishing new research to demonstrate how Black people used law in their everyday lives, long before the civil rights movement. It is an account of Black legal lives that recovers a rich, broader vision of Black life itself—a vision allied with, yet distinct from, “the freedom struggle."
PRAISE FOR "BEFORE THE MOVEMENT"
"[A] cogently subversive book. . . . Mr. Penningroth’s powerful thesis may seem strikingly counterintuitive, but his detailed exposition is convincing, drawing on the prior work of dozens of scholars who have explored smaller aspects of the vast canvas Mr. Penningroth seeks to paint.”
“…a deeply researched and counterintuitive history of how ordinary Black Americans used law in their everyday lives from the last decades of slavery to the 1970s. Penningroth reframes the conventional story of civil rights.”
“Penningroth is a tireless researcher and gifted storyteller who elevates Black Americans’ everyday legal struggles to their rightful and enduring place in our national story.”
MARTHA S. JONES
author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote and Insisted on Equality for All (Winner 2021 LA Times Book Prize for History)
“Dylan Penningroth’s new landmark book will forever alter the way we think about and write the legal history of the U.S. — an astonishing, decades’-long research effort. Not to be missed."
JOHN FABIAN WITT
author of Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History (Pulitzer Finalist and winner 2013 Bancroft Prize)
“This deeply researched book completely rewrites the history of African Americans and their struggles with law from the close of slavery through the 1960s. . . . Their story had been a ‘hidden history’ until Penningroth’s painstaking efforts brought it to light, and their engagement with law has left us with multiple notions of what it means to fight for ‘civil rights.’ ”
KENNETH W. MACK
Biele Professor of Law, Harvard University and author of Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer
“Black people grace these pages in what I’d consider the most masterful treatment yet written on the business of African American freedom. Dylan C. Penningroth challenges our tendency to limit Black struggles for justice to their pursuits of national belonging."
N. D. B. CONNOLLY
Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins
"Dylan C. Penningroth’s pre-history of the Civil Rights Movement, which examines Black traditions of private law and “the rights of everyday use,” is the kind of work we need more of."