cover image Justice Rising: Robert Kennedy’s America in Black and White

Justice Rising: Robert Kennedy’s America in Black and White

Patricia Sullivan. Belknap, $39.95 (528p) ISBN 978-0-674-73745-7

University of South Carolina history professor Sullivan (Lift Every Voice) delivers a nuanced and deeply researched portrait of Robert Kennedy’s engagement with the civil rights movement as attorney general, U.S. senator, and presidential candidate. She notes that Kennedy organized the first desegregated meeting at the University of Virginia in 1951, and describes how his “moralistic streak” and instinct “to do what was right, regardless of what others thought” shaped his views on race. Sullivan delves deeply in Kennedy’s efforts as attorney general to enforce school desegregation and African American voting rights in the South, his shaping of legislation that became the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, and his support for an innovative, community-led redevelopment project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. She also documents Kennedy’s 1966 visit to apartheid-era South Africa, and his push for the Johnson administration to expand its anti-poverty efforts. Skillfully drawing from primary sources to recreate the era’s protests, political struggles, and urban uprisings, Sullivan makes a persuasive case that Kennedy played a crucial role in persuading white Americans to recognize the ill effects of racial discrimination. The result is an immersive and eye-opening history. (June)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the nature of the 1951 meeting at the University of Virginia. It was desegregated, not segregated.