Recasting the Movement and Reframing the Law in Risa Goluboff's The Lost Promise of Civil Rights


Nelson Lichtenstein is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy. He may be contacted at


Risa Goluboff's The Lost Promise of Civil Rights (2007) advances the historiographical idea that a long civil rights movement, beginning well before the mid-1950s, had a robust and innovative legal dimension. Her study of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) itself, demonstrates that lawyers in those organizations took guidance from many working-class clients to successfully deploy a conception of civil rights rooted on the farm and in the factory to challenge the economic and social edifice of Jim Crow, in the North as well as the South.