cover image Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality

Tomiko Brown-Nagin. Pantheon, $30 (512p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4718-3

In this immersive and eye-opening biography, Bancroft Prize winner Brown-Nagin (Courage to Dissent) places the groundbreaking legal and political career of Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005) in the context of the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Raised in a large, working-class, West Indian family in New Haven, Conn., Motley’s intellect and drive inspired a local philanthropist to pay her way through college and law school. After graduation, she took a job as a law clerk at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund under Thurgood Marshall, where she was passed over for promotion and had to push to receive equal pay, even as she played an integral role in arguing Brown v. Board of Education and other landmark civil rights cases before the Supreme Court. After serving in the New York state senate and as Manhattan borough president, in 1965, Motley became the first Black woman confirmed to the federal judiciary and presided over noteworthy gender discrimination cases, including a lawsuit filed by a Sports Illustrated reporter against the New York Yankees for denying her access to the locker room to interview players. Brilliantly balancing the details of Motley’s professional and personal life with lucid legal analysis, this riveting account shines a well-deserved—and long overdue—spotlight on a remarkable trailblazer. Illus. (Jan.)