Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction

Norton. Mar. 2021. 448p. ISBN 9781324005933. $32. HIST
In this telling book, historian Masur (An Example for All the Land) shows that the movement for civil rights has a long history that provided the vocabulary, directions, dimensions, and legal and constitutional imperatives that shaped civil rights thereafter. She closely tracks the arguments and ways that Black and white activists persistently challenged racist laws that denied free Blacks basic civil rights, such as free movement, on the grounds that state and local governments had the right to protect themselves from persons likely to pose dangers to public health and safety. Activists organized petition campaigns, lobbied governments, and published literature to make the case for rights. Throughout her clearly written and compelling book, Masur makes the essential point that definitions and protections of civil rights was largely a struggle carried on in the states, before the Civil War and Reconstruction invested the federal government with such an interest.
VERDICT At a time when definitions of citizenship and civil rights are again under assault, Masur’s careful accounting of the ways Americans came to understand such terms provides an informed perspective to appreciate that such concepts never were, and thus never are, self-evident. They require due diligence and vigilance to secure and sustain at all levels of government. An essential book.
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