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And Justice for All

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About This Book
This is the story of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, through its extraordinary fifty years at the heart of the civil rights movement and the struggle for justice in America.

Mary Frances Berry, the commission’s chairperson for more than a decade, author of My Face Is Black Is True (“An essential chapter in American history from a distinguished historian”—Nell Painter), tells of the commission’s founding in 1957 by President Eisenhower, in response to burgeoning civil rights protests; how it was designed to be an independent bipartisan Federal agency—made up of six members, with no more than three from one political party, free of interference from Congress and presidents—beholden to no government body, with full subpoena power, and free to decide what it would investigate and report on.

Berry writes that the commission, rather than producing reports that would gather dust on the shelves, began to hold hearings even as it was under attack from Southern segregationists. She writes how the commission’s hearings and reports helped the nonviolent protest movement prick the conscience of the nation then on the road to dismantling segregation, beginning with the battles in Montgomery and Little Rock, the sit-ins and freedom rides, the March on Washington.

We see how reluctant government witnesses and local citizens overcame their fear of reprisal and courageously came forward to testify before the commission; how the commission was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; how Congress soon added to the commission’s jurisdiction the overseeing of discriminating practices—with regard to sex, age, and disability—which helped in the enactment of the Age Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.

Berry writes about how the commission’s monitoring of police community relations and affirmative action was fought by various U.S. presidents, chief among them Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, each of whom fired commissioners who disagreed with their policies, among them Dr. Berry, replacing them with commissioners who supported their ideological objectives; and how these commissioners began to downplay the need to remedy discrimination, ignoring reports of unequal access to health care and employment opportunities.

Finally, Dr. Berry’s book makes clear what is needed for the future: a reconfigured commission, fully independent, with an expanded mandate to help oversee all human rights and to make good the promise of democracy—equal protection under the law regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or national origin.


From the Hardcover edition.
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This is the story of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, through its extraordinary fifty years at the heart of the civil rights movement and the struggle for justice in America.

Mary Frances Berry, the commission’s chairperson for more than a decade, author of My Face Is Black Is True (“An essential chapter in American history from a distinguished historian”—Nell Painter), tells of the commission’s founding in 1957 by President Eisenhower, in response to burgeoning civil rights protests; how it was designed to be an independent bipartisan Federal agency—made up of six members, with no more than three from one political party, free of interference from Congress and presidents—beholden to no government body, with full subpoena power, and free to decide what it would investigate and report on.

Berry writes that the commission, rather than producing reports that would gather dust on the shelves, began to hold hearings even as it was under attack from Southern segregationists. She writes how the commission’s hearings and reports helped the nonviolent protest movement prick the conscience of the nation then on the road to dismantling segregation, beginning with the battles in Montgomery and Little Rock, the sit-ins and freedom rides, the March on Washington.

We see how reluctant government witnesses and local citizens overcame their fear of reprisal and courageously came forward to testify before the commission; how the commission was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; how Congress soon added to the commission’s jurisdiction the overseeing of discriminating practices—with regard to sex, age, and disability—which helped in the enactment of the Age Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.

Berry writes about how the commission’s monitoring of police community relations and affirmative action was fought by various U.S. presidents, chief among them Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, each of whom fired commissioners who disagreed with their policies, among them Dr. Berry, replacing them with commissioners who supported their ideological objectives; and how these commissioners began to downplay the need to remedy discrimination, ignoring reports of unequal access to health care and employment opportunities.

Finally, Dr. Berry’s book makes clear what is needed for the future: a reconfigured commission, fully independent, with an expanded mandate to help oversee all human rights and to make good the promise of democracy—equal protection under the law regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or national origin.


From the Hardcover edition.
Product Details
eBook (448 pages)
Published: January 20, 2009
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Imprint: Knopf
ISBN: 9780307271235
Other books byMary Frances Berry
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    The seminal speeches that helped catapult Barack Obama to the White House. In Power in Words, distinguished historian and civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry and former presidential speechwriter Josh Gottheimer introduce Barack Obama's most memorable speeches. Compelling and enduring, Power in Words delivers the behind-the-scenes account of Obama's rhetorical legacy and is a collection to relish for years to come. 

    The Politics of Parenthood

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    My Face Is Black Is True

    My Face Is Black Is True
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    “My face is black is true but its not my fault but I love my name and my honest dealing with my fellow man.” –Callie House (1899)In this groundbreaking book, acclaimed historian Dr. Mary Frances Berry resurrects the remarkable story of ex-slave Callie House (1861-1928) who, seventy years before the civil-rights movement, headed a demand for ex-slave reparations. A widowed Nashville washerwoman and mother of five, House went on to fight for African American pensions based on those offered to Union soldiers, brilliantly targeting $68 million in taxes on seized rebel cotton and demanding it as repayment for centuries of unpaid labor. Here is the fascinating story of a forgotten civil rights crusader: a woman who emerges as a courageous pioneering activist, a forerunner of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

    The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice

    The Pig Farmer's Daughter and Other Tales of American Justice
    Episodes of Racism and Sexism in the Courts...
    From the head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and noted professor of law and history at the University of Pennsylvania, a groundbreaking book that examines both civil and criminal court cases from the Civil War to the present, to reveal the impact of stereotyping--race, class, gender--on the American legal system. The question Mary Frances Berry asks: Whose story most strongly influences the making of legal decisions in the American justice system? Using previously unexamined material from state appellate civil and criminal court cases--cases of rape, seduction, and paternity disputes, and cases dealing with murder, inheritance, and property disputes in which sexual relations are at the heart of the story--Berry takes us through two centuries of American case law to show how attitudes toward gender, race, class, and sexuality have materially affected, and continue to affect, judicial decision-making. Among the many cases Berry discusses: Alabama, 1867--A white woman sues her husband for divorce in both the lower and state supreme courts because of his sexual relationship with a former slave, and is denied her petition on the basis that a sexual relationship between a white man and a black woman is "of no consequence." New York, 1932--In a surprising victory, the longtime mistress of a theater owner successfully contests her lover's will and proves her right to inherit a wife's portion of the estate. Texas, 1984--A suit by a woman against her female lover ends in a decision that allows the court to avoid acknowledging the existence of a lesbian relationship. And, in the 1990s, we see the cases of William Kennedy Smith, Mike Tyson, and O. J. Simpson in a new context. Moving stories, shocking stories, ironic stories, tragic stories--a book that fascinates in terms of its human drama, by its demonstration of the ways in which prejudice affects justice, and by its account of how the law has evolved (or hasn't) as our racial, social, and sexual attitudes have changed. From the Hardcover edition.

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