Skip to Main Content (Press Enter) Toggle side nav

Civil Rights Queen

Best Seller
Civil Rights Queen by Tomiko Brown-Nagin
Hardcover $30.00
Jan 25, 2022 | ISBN 9781524747183

Buy from Other Retailers:

See All Formats (2) +
  • Jan 25, 2022 | ISBN 9781524747183

    Buy from Other Retailers:

  • Jan 25, 2022 | ISBN 9781524747190

    Buy from Other Retailers:

Buy the Audiobook Download:

Product Details

Praise

“This nuanced biography of Constance Baker Motley examines the paradoxes in the remarkable life of a ‘first’: the first Black woman elected to the New York State Senate, the first female Manhattan borough president, the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary…That Motley is little known today is ‘a kind of historical malpractice,’ Brown-Nagin writes; this book is a convincing corrective.”
The New Yorker

“I was thrilled to read this book…it is the perfect thing to read right now.”
—Jasmine Guillory, The Today Show

“This exemplary biography is timely and essential.”
The Washington Post

“Rigorously researched and elegantly written, Civil Rights Queen is a seminal biography of an extraordinary figure whose legacy has been obscured for far too long. Brown-Nagin powerfully illuminates Motley’s journey into the heart of American law and politics, and the result is a magisterial work that befits its subject.”
—Ibram X. Kendi, bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist

“Illuminating…thoughtful…Civil Rights Queen is the result of diligent research…poignant… a balanced assessment of a brave and brilliant woman who helped to reconfigure the system before she became a part of it….Brown-Nagin honors her subject by being resolutely direct and unsentimental — steely, if you will.”
—Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

The activist may not have been a household name but her work as “the only Black woman member in the legal team at the NAACP’s Inc. Fund,” helped further the fight for full race and gender equality in America. Written by a legal expert, this biography breaks down just how impactful her contributions were.”
Essence, “56 New Books We Can’t Wait To Read”

“Written by legal and Civil Rights historian Tomiko Brown-Nagin…this biography about [an] iconic female leader…is the perfect nonfiction addition to your bookshelf this year.”
The Appalachian, “Most Anticipated Books”

Civil Rights Queen includes a remarkable strand of autobiography…a scrupulously researched study in power. Brown…bridges the often unbridgeable groups of American society.”
Harvard Magazine

“Now, at last, in Civil Rights Queen, the brilliant historian and legal scholar, Tomiko Brown-Nagin has given Constance Motley’s life and heroic achievements the attention they deserve. It’s difficult for me to imagine a biography we’ve needed more. Civil Rights Queen restores a truly brave, courageous, and brilliant lawyer and jurist to her proper place in American history.”
—Henry Louis Gates, Jr. the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University

Civil Rights Queen is a brilliant work, elegantly written and deeply researched.  Brown-Nagin does complete justice to the life of Constance Baker Motley, one of the Twentieth Century’s towering figures.”
—Annette Gordon-Reed

“Constance Baker Motley is one of the most important and under appreciated heroes in the history of the civil rights movement. This brilliantly written, exhaustively researched, and profoundly illuminating biography places Motley firmly atop the Mount Rushmore of the movement’s legal architects. Tomiko Brown-Nagin has produced a magnificent work of historical recovery, a page turning narrative history of the civil rights movement, and a biographical tour de force that will linger in hearts and minds long after the final page is read.”
—Peniel E. Joseph, author of The Sword and The Shield

“Constance Baker Motley ought to be as well-known as Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In a better world, Motley would be a household name. With this urgently necessary and exhaustive biography, Tomiko Brown-Nagin is building that better world.”
—Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States
 
“Compelling . . . Civil Rights Queen is a must read for anyone who dares to believe that equal justice under the law is possible and is in search of a model for how to make it a reality.”
—Anita Hill

“Compelling, candid, and highly revelatory.  By examining in striking detail the remarkable life of Constance Baker Motley—a formidable lawyer turned politician turned judge — Professor Brown-Nagin  makes a major contribution to several fields:  race relations, women’s studies, the study of the legal profession, and modern American history.” 
—Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

“In Civil Rights Queen, award-winning historian Tomiko Brown-Nagin recognizes an unsung American heroine . . . Through an intimate, behind the scenes journey into what Motley did, where she came from and how she got there, we learn the keys to Black women’s successes in the 20th century. Civil Rights Queen is a dazzling life story that inspires readers to discover the Constance Baker Motley in ourselves.”
—Martha Jones, author of Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All
 
“A brilliantly researched and riveting biography. Tomiko Brown-Nagin models the care, preparation and excellence of Motley; through a decade of effort she has written an instant classic that rightfully places Motley at the center of the American struggle for racial justice.”
—Sheryll Cashin, Author of White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality
 
“Tomiko Brown-Nagin brings a story-teller’s art, meticulous research, and astute legal and psychological insights to the life and times of a central figure of the civil rights movement. This book rectifies the exclusions experienced by Constance Baker Motley…in historical memory and provides a riveting account of how a working class daughter of West Indian immigrants imagined and created a life of doing justice as a warrior for change. Readers will . . . never forget the woman whose outspoken, proud, and ferocious sense of justice changed her fortunes while she challenged America’s racial apartheid, gender barriers, and day-to-day obstacles to human thriving.”
Martha Minow, 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University

“Meticulously researched…superbly elucidated…Brown-Nagin excels at packing in intriguing minute details while still making them easily understood. Civil Rights Queen is the unforgettable story of a legal pioneer who changed the course of history.”
BookPage [starred review]

“In this immersive and eye-opening biography, Bancroft Prize winner Brown-Nagin places the groundbreaking legal and political career of Constance Baker Motley in the context of the civil rights and women’s rights movements…Brilliantly balancing the details of Motley’s professional and personal life with lucid legal analysis, this riveting account shines a well-deserved—and long overdue—spotlight on a remarkable trailblazer.”
Publisher’s Weekly, “Books of the Week”

“Brown-Nagin’s well-written account places an often-overlooked figure in the context of history and argues that Motley should be remembered as one of the principal strategists of the civil rights movement…. [Civil Rights Queen] not only shines a light on a forgotten civil rights pioneer but also asks insightful questions about the relationship of power, gender, and social justice. This is an important addition.”
Library Journal

“Stirring…An excellent exploration of the life of an admirable pioneer who deserves to be far better known.”
Kirkus Reviews [starred review]

Civil Rights Queen is an essential text… and a testament to one of the most remarkable women in history who deserves far more recognition.”
Booklist [starred review]

“[An] immersive and eye-opening biography . . . Brilliantly balancing the details of Motley’s professional and personal life with lucid legal analysis, this riveting account shines a well-deserved—and long overdue—spotlight on a remarkable trailblazer.”
Publishers Weekly [starred review]

Table Of Contents

Introduction . . . 3
 
PART I. BEGINNINGS
1. “The Base of This Great Ambition”: Nevis and New Haven . . . 15
2. “I Discovered Myself”: The Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Dawn of a Political Conscience . . . 28
3. “Like a Fairy Tale”: Black Exceptionalism, Philanthropy, and a Path to Higher Education . . . 39
4. A Fortuitous Meeting with “Mr. Civil Rights”: Thurgood Marshall and an Offer Not to Be Refused . . . 53
5. “They Hovered Over and Cared for Each Other”: The Uncommon Union of Constance Baker and Joel Motley Jr. . . . 56
 
PART II. BECOMING THE CIVIL RIGHTS QUEEN
6. “A Professional Woman”: Breaking Barriers at Work and in the Courtroom . . . 65
7. “We All Felt the Excruciating Pressure”: Making History in Brown v. Board of Education . . . 79
8. “The Fight Has Just Begun”: The Decade-Long Slog to Desegregate the University of Florida College of Law . . . 91
9. “We Made a Mistake”: “Poor Character,” “Loose Morals,” and Untold Sacrifices in Pursuit of Higher Education at the University of Alabama . . . 98
 
PART III. THE HEIGHTS AND DEPTHS OF LIFE AS A SYMBOL AND AGENT OF CHANGE
10. The “Best Plaintiffs Ever”: Desegregating the University of Georgia . . . 113
11. A “Difficulty with the Idea of a Woman”: The Setback of 1961 . . . 126
12. “That’s Your Case”: James Meredith and the Battle to Desegregate the University of Mississippi . . . 141
13. “I Am Human After All”: Trauma and Hardship in the Long Battle at Ole Miss . . . 158
14. An “Eye-Opening Experience”: The Birmingham Civil Rights Campaign . . . 177
 
PART IV. A SEASON IN POLITICS
15. “An Ideal Candidate”: The Making of a Political Progressive . . . 201
16. “Crisis of Leadership”: A Clash Between Radical and Reform Politics . . . 217
17. “Not a Feminist”: The Manhattan Borough Presidency . . . 228
 
PART V: ON THE BENCH
18. “First”: The Judicial Confirmation . . . 247
19. “A Tough Old Bird”: Judge Motley’s Court . . . 264
20. “The Weeping and the Wailing”: The Black Panther Party, the FBI, and the Huggins Family . . . 272
21. “Pawns in a Very Dangerous Game”: Crime, Punishment, and Prisoners’ Rights . . . 283
22. A “Woman Lawyer” and a “Woman Judge”: Making Opportunity for Women in Law . . . 302
23. “For a Girl, You Know a Lot About Sports”: The New York Yankees Strike Out in Judge Motley’s Courtroom . . . 316
24. No “Protecting Angel”: Blacks, Latinos, and Ordinary People in Judge Motley’s Courtroom . . . 327
Epilogue: Legacies . . . 345

Acknowledgments . . .363
Notes . . . 367
Sources . . . 445
Index . . . 469

Looking for More Great Reads?
21 Books You’ve Been Meaning to Read
Get the latest updates from Tomiko Brown-Nagin
And go from well-read to best read with book recs, deals and more in your inbox every week.
And go from well-read to best read with book recs, deals and more in your inbox every week.
By clicking SIGN UP, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to Penguin Random House’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
Dismiss
Thanks!
Something awesome is on its way.
Back to Top