Attorney Rice revisits her past and the career achievements that made her a top civil-rights litigator.
The daughter of educated and socially ambitious middle-class parents, the author took an early interest in defending the less fortunate. She also understood that her “cocktail lineage” put her in a special and to some degree privileged position with respect to other African-Americans. While many dark-skinned people “threatened white existence,” Rice’s lighter skin allowed her to live a sheltered life in a mostly white world. Determined to make a difference in the world, like her heroine, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Rice attended Harvard University and then NYU law school, where she would learn “the skills needed to bend the powerful.” Her first foray into the legal realm was as a law clerk with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) in New York City, where she worked to exonerate death-row inmates in Georgia. As a full-fledged lawyer at the LDF’s Los Angeles office, she plunged headfirst into L.A.’s gang underworld and became notorious as the gadfly of a brutally corrupt LAPD. Her work on behalf of the poor and dispossessed also led her to champion the building of new schools in an ineffective, overcrowded L.A. public-school system. Parts of the narrative—e.g., her recounting of her bare-knuckled interactions with inner-city gangs and a dysfunctional LAPD—are genuinely compelling. However, the author’s irritating tendency toward self-congratulation detracts from her genuinely inspiring, passionate story.
A provocative but occasionally egotistical book.