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Mighty Justice:  My Life in Civil Rights, by Dovey Johnson Roundtree.

September 11, 2019

Mighty Justice
Mighty Justice:  My Life in Civil Rights, by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2019.

Forthcoming, 2019

4 stars

An autobiography by a vibrant civil rights activist and lawyer in the 1940s and 1950s.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree (1914-2018) was born and raised in poverty in Charlotte, North Carolina with a strong grandmother.  Somehow she was able to attend Spellman in the 1930s where a white female professor mentored her.  As World War II was beginning, she went to Washington, D.C. where, as a protégée of Mary McCloud Bethune, she was among the first black women in the U.S. Army Officers Corp.  After a brief marriage, she went to Howard Law School where she studied and worked with the critical cluster of black lawyers who were challenging segregation in the courts.  A case of hers relating to interstate travel paralleled Brown vs. Board of Education.  As the Civil Rights struggle moved from the law courts to the streets, she became less involved in the national movement.  She focused instead on the legal cases of individuals caught up in injustice.  In addition, she went to seminary and studied so that she could become a minister when the AME Church allowed women to hold that position.  Roundtree firmly believed in justice and fair play and through her long life fought for those goals for herself and for others.  Her autobiography is full of what she believed and how those beliefs translated into action. She tells a very personal story of what it was like to be in critical situations such as hearing cases before the Supreme Court.   She lauds the individuals who were her mentors.  But her first love was law, not romance, as her book reflects.

Katie McCabe, a white Washington, D.C. journalist, is the co-author of this book. She is a nationally-recognized non-fiction writer, known for writing about little-known individuals, many of them blacks.  She initially contacted Roundtree for an article twelve years before her death at 104.  The two became good friends and worked together to write Mighty Justice.  Their book is not your average as-told-to production.  The two women were able to blend their talents into a meaningful whole.  Roundtree is always front and center with her own particular language and experiences, and McCabe is behind the scenes organizing and making the project into a compelling story.  It first appeared as a memoir entitled Justice Older Than the Law, in 2009. The Association of Black Women Historians has awarded the book its prize for the best book on an African American woman

For a time in the 1940s and 1950s, Roundtree played a key role in the national legal struggle for Civil Rights.  Anyone interested in that struggle will need to read this book.  For the rest of us, Mighty Justice is simply a fascinating account of a black woman whose life made an important difference in our nation’s history and whose life contributes to our understanding of the variety of significant women.  I recommend it strongly.

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