EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW by Constance Baker Motley


An Autobiography
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Unfortunately, the impact of an autobiographer’s writing style may not match that of his or her life. Insofar as that is the case here, however, it reflects Motley’s amazing career (she is now a senior judge in US District Court for the Southern District of New York) as much as her colorless prose. Motley became a lawyer at a time when neither women nor blacks were especially welcome in the profession, and she worked with the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund at the outset of the civil rights movement, including laboring alongside Thurgood Marshall on Brown v. Board of Education. Her efforts in litigating civil rights cases included ten appearances before the Supreme Court. She briefly moved into politics and became the first black woman elected to the New York Senate and the first woman to serve as Manhattan borough president, then became the first woman appointed to the federal bench in New York. Indeed, the events themselves often carry the reader along; the drama of sitting on the speaker’s platform with her son during Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech or tense moments on Mississippi roads with Medgar Evers matches that of any movie script. Tensions within the civil rights movement are also revealed when Motley discloses that she “thought he [Marshall] would have a stroke” when the advocate of moderate legal tactics learned of student sit-ins in 1960. She closes with a somewhat incongruous commentary regretting the dismantling of affirmative action and some uncharacteristically biting remarks about the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Motley considers Bush’s action “ . . . the most cynical move made in the area of race relations since Plessy” that “dealt all of us black Americans a crushing societal setback in exchange for conservative votes.” Not a great book in its own right, but certainly of interest for the student of the civil rights movement. (24 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-14865-1
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998


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