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Publisher's Summary

With the US Supreme Court nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson, “it makes sense to revisit the life and work of another Black woman who profoundly shaped the law: Constance Baker Motley” (CNN). The first major biography of one of our most influential judges—an activist lawyer who became the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary—that provides an eye-opening account of the twin struggles for gender equality and civil rights in the 20th Century.

“A must-read for anyone who dares to believe that equal justice under the law is possible and is in search of a model for how to make it a reality.” —Anita Hill

Born to an aspirational blue-collar family during the Great Depression, Constance Baker Motley was expected to find herself a good career as a hair dresser. Instead, she became the first Black woman to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court, the first of ten she would eventually argue. The only Black woman member in the legal team at the NAACP's Inc. Fund at the time, she defended Martin Luther King in Birmingham, helped to argue in Brown vs. The Board of Education, and played a critical role in vanquishing Jim Crow laws throughout the South. She was the first Black woman elected to the state Senate in New York, the first woman elected Manhattan Borough President, and the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary. 

Civil Rights Queen captures the story of a remarkable American life, a figure who remade law and inspired the imaginations of African Americans across the country. Burnished with an extraordinary wealth of research, award-winning, esteemed Civil Rights and legal historian and dean of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Tomiko Brown-Nagin brings Motley to life in these pages. Brown-Nagin compels us to ponder some of our most timeless and urgent questions--how do the historically marginalized access the corridors of power? What is the price of the ticket? How does access to power shape individuals committed to social justice? In Civil Rights Queen, she dramatically fills out the picture of some of the most profound judicial and societal change made in twentieth-century America.

©2022 Tomiko Brown-Nagin (P)2022 Random House Audio

What listeners say about Civil Rights Queen

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Queen Indeed!

What an incredible life Judge Motley had! She changed the trajectory of so many lives and helped put our country on the right path towards full citizenship for all.

The reader did an excellent job in conveying the complexity and richness of Judge Motley. The subject matter would have been less interesting if the reader hadn’t been so good.

Thank you Professor Brown-Nagin! The audiobook was so fantastic, it made me want to read the book.

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Her kind of Greatness only comes once.

Gender shapes race. Racism is a patriarchal oppressive phenomenon. It's philosophy or lack thereof infiltrates the cultural ethos and bleeds into the workplace subjugating all non-white, particularly Black women. The gender biase of which Mrs. Motley, a formidable legal mind faced head on, battled and won.

Overthrowing Jim Crow's legal clutches under violation of the Constitution. Prevailing over State sponsored, hierarchical tyranny embedded in segregation in the very structure and fabric of the culture. Black women experienced the brunt of this oppressive and repressive system. Gender biase and imbalance still weighs heavy on the scale. Breaking ceilings, a reconciling struggle or dilemma when integrating professional career choices, motherhood, family and wage disparities is indeed a strategic, balancing feat. Motley unabashedly defied these struggles.
"Work if you can afford childcare", Motley went on to tell working women.

As part of the Ink Funds Legal Team, the brilliant legal mind, Constance Motley, a historical giant was integral in reshaping the unjust system of American Democracy. Attributed to a paradigm shift in the Justice system.
The Supreme Court's decision of desegregation, Brown v Board, setting new precedence. The savagery of segregation, separate but equal is unjust on its face especially below the Mason Dickson line, a most blatantly cruel struggle.

Constance Motley, a heroine and legal warrior to the rescue~tough as nails, briefs in hand, cape on and child and husband riding shotgun, Motley faced the giants head on.
Catapulted to international stardom, now Lead Counsel, the fight continued.

The ugly, weighty, arduous history of confronting the legacy of against those defending the perpetual onslaught of Slavery and Segregation in the "Home of the Free".
The long fight of desegregating Higher Education in the South in Universities like the Florida College of Law, University of Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss.
The heartbreak, the soul defiance, the emotional toll...I don't know how they did it, how they made but they did against all those exasperating odds.
The steel masks Black people had to wear to just be human, to be free, to learn, to be human.

This book will take you through the pages of history that have been buried so deep in schools' American History textbooks and curriculum.
The research, ethics and literary integrity of the author and her staff is beyond measure.

The statuesque, stately Constance Baker Motley attained a height so high, her wingspan glide way up high above the bluest of skies.
Justice is an exercise so exasperatingly magnanimous, it would take an army of swift, sharp legal extraterrestrials to attain.
Oh America, the great!

Side note:
I am only halfway in the book.

From lawyer to movement lawyer of the Civil Rights Movement to the politics of legislation in the halls of the Senate.
Another first for Black women; the drama, the antics of being Black and woman in a country colored under a flag of Racism and White Supremacy.
Motley, skilled, courageous and overly qualified, continued to persevere.
Shortly there after, the judiciary bench, another first.
History in the making, it would be, that Motley was destined. 1st Black Woman Justice to the Federal Bench.
The saga and soul testing scales of justice would persist.
Freedom is indeed a constant struggle and Justice Motley was front and center. The liberty Lioness. The fight continues.

This book takes you through the halls of a history only a few would walk through without biase or reverence. Its angles are wide but focused, a tutorial in professionalism. That's how you get the job done. It's a hard read but critically necessary. Kudos to those editors who must have spent a great deal of time and scrutiny to get this book to print. Exemplary!
Cannot say enough about this chronicling of the resplendent and rare star known to us as Constance Baker Motley.
This Black woman has made an indelible imprint on this American Social Experiment.
Even with this last word, I remain moved beyond measure...🤲🏽🖤👑

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A Life Well Lived

Loved it. The "Civil Rights Queen" is a must at anytime but especially during Women's History Month. It offers some landmark judicial decisions that have impacted our lives and have held America true to it's promise of liberty and justice for all thanks to Judge Constance Baker Motley and her contemporaries. As a child of the 60s, born and raised in the South, it provided a clearer picture of the judicial and personal struggle and sacrifice of Attorney Baker Motley to afford me my education and civil rights.

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Don’t miss this one

Such an important and thorough coverage of the life and contributions of this iconic woman. I learned so much. Don’t miss!

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Ruling: A Great Book

A thoughtful, inspiring book about a dynamic woman who helped shape the American legal system.