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Excerpt from Mighty Justice by Dovey Johnson Roundtree , Katie McCabe , plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Mighty Justice

My Life in Civil Rights

by Dovey Johnson Roundtree , Katie McCabe

Mighty Justice by Dovey Johnson Roundtree , Katie McCabe X
Mighty Justice by Dovey Johnson Roundtree , Katie McCabe
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    Nov 2019, 304 pages


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Print Excerpt

Called to Witness

We have all heard that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but during dark and difficult times, it's sometimes a challenge to see it curving in the right direction. History tells us the stories of the great men—charismatic, brave, and doomed—who gave their lives to the struggle for racial equality. While these men earned our praise, we know that they did not change the world alone. Mighty Justice
This is a love story. Dovey Johnson Roundtree was a patriot, in love with a flawed, unfair, and often cruel nation. One of her earliest memories was the sight of her grandmother's feet, misshapen and gnarled as a result of violence at the hands of an angry white man. But along with her memory of the damage done her grandmother's body, she recalls herself on bended knee, kneading and massaging the same feet, providing comfort to the woman who had been brave enough to say no in the face of power and paid the price. Even as a small child, Dovey Johnson Roundtree understood that the ultimate act of love is service.

I wonder how Dovey Johnson Roundtree would want this work to be discussed. I am sure many will read this story, as I did, and marvel that her name and contributions are not better known. Still, I resist the impulse to call her a "hidden figure," the term coined to honor the black women whose unsung contributions to NASA helped put a man on the moon. But I can't imagine that Ms. Roundtree would cotton to such a description. While she was no doubt aware that hers was not a household name, I am not convinced she would consider that a tragedy. There is a hymn well-loved in the African Methodist Episcopal Church that proclaims, "Let the work I've done speak for me."

Hers was a life of constant contribution. In the 1940s, she heeded the call of the great Mary McLeod Bethune and joined the first class of African American women to be trained as officers in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, lending her skills to support the war effort. These difficult years capture the paradox of her experience as a black woman in the United States. She was a proud American, eager to represent her country in World War II. The term "the Greatest Generation" conjures images of handsome young soldiers storming European beaches before returning home triumphant in uniform, and then another image of these same men, old and wizened, festooned with medals, entering the White House in wheelchairs. But a generation is a vast and diverse marker. Also part of this generation were the women who worked as switchboard operators, mechanics, bakers, whose labors supported the men on the battlefield. And among them were the black women who challenged segregation—and sometimes won, but other times were excluded, penalized, and humiliated for their efforts.

Ms. Roundtree herself faced the pain of being shunned by the country she had so well served. As a young servicewoman, she insisted upon her right to a seat in the white section on a segregated bus. She was thrown off the bus and forced to remain for several hours in a deserted bus depot. This would be a dangerous situation for any woman, but for a black woman the threat was infinitely more grave. This incident stayed with her long after she was safe at home. In the struggle for freedom, Ms. Roundtree was deeply invested not just from an abstract respect for the ideals of the nation, but from her own yearning to live free.

She found her calling as a lawyer. In her own words, "The promise of the law lifted me, when so much else weighed me down." Careful parsing of Plessy v. Ferguson, the most destructive decision in the history of the Supreme Court, demonstrated "how thoroughly Jim Crow rested on sand." Law school was demanding: Ms. Roundtree worked two part-time jobs to support her studies and struggled with her health. Still, as someone would say decades later, nevertheless she persisted. As with her experience in the military, she had to fight discrimination in law school. Howard University is a historically black university, but she was one of the few women in her class. Still, she studied alongside the men, winning their respect and in some cases lifelong friendship through a shared sense of mission, a deep faith in the promise of the law.

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Excerpted from Mighty Justice by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe . Copyright © 2019 by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe . Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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