"It was not until I arrived at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund that I learned my profession, how to work with colleagues and clients, and how it might feel to grow up in the law." So begins Michael Meltsner’s vivid account of how as a lawyer for Muhammad Ali, for the doctors who ended Jim Crow at American hospitals, and for scores of death row inmates he became such a deeply involved activist in the civil rights movement. Part memoir and part critical study, The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer offers both a personalized history of the civil rights movement from a participant’s perspective, and the compelling account of how a lawyer committed to social change discovered himself in his work.

Focused on the inside story of law reform, the book contains portraits of some larger-than-life figures, including Thurgood Marshall, William Kuntsler, and the charismatic black law professor Derrick Bell, as well as of unheralded movers and shakers such as the attorney C. B. King of Albany, Georgia, and Margaret Burnham, who as a young lawyer representing Angela Davis got caught in a racial and generational crossfire. Alongside these recollections, Meltsner provides a critical analysis of early civil rights efforts to achieve social change through litigation while also providing the wider context of the personalities, policies, and tactics that continue to shape reform efforts today.

Deeply researched and using case files that have previously been off-limits to historians, The Making of a Civil Rights Lawyer will appeal to young and upcoming lawyers, to students of the history of the 1960s, of civil rights, and of African American studies, and to anyone interested in social change.

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