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Publisher's Summary

“Dovey Johnson Roundtree set a new path for women and proved that the vision and perseverance of a single individual can turn the tides of history.” (Michelle Obama) 

In Mighty Justice, trailblazing African American civil rights attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree recounts her inspiring life story that speaks movingly and urgently to our racially troubled times. From the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, to the segregated courtrooms of the nation’s capital; from the male stronghold of the army where she broke gender and color barriers to the pulpits of churches where women had waited for years for the right to minister - in all these places, Dovey Johnson Roundtree sought justice. At a time when African American attorneys had to leave the courthouses to use the bathroom, Roundtree took on Washington’s white legal establishment and prevailed, winning a 1955 landmark bus desegregation case that would help to dismantle the practice of “separate but equal” and shatter Jim Crow laws. Later, she led the vanguard of women ordained to the ministry in the AME Church in 1961, merging her law practice with her ministry to fight for families and children being destroyed by urban violence. 

Dovey Roundtree passed away in 2018 at the age of 104. Though her achievements were significant and influential, she remains largely unknown to the American public. Mighty Justice corrects the historical record.

©2009, 2019 The Dovey Johnson Roundtree Educational Trust and Katie McCabe (P)2019 Audible, Inc.

What listeners say about Mighty Justice

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Remarkable!

This is a very compelling and extraordinary autobiography by an amazing woman who was a trailblazer in many ways. One of the very best listens I have had from Audible.

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Excellent

I was sad when this book came to it’s end. Well written and read. She has inspired me to do more politically and in teaching my grandchildren. I only wish I had learned of her sooner.

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Underappriciated figure

So many historical figures have made so many small contributions to our world that it is hard to believe that any single person could have done so much. And at the same time, the fact that they are are not more well known is a testament to how our memories are fickle. I was not aware of Dovey Johnson Roundtree, and I honestly do not remember why or when the book ended up on my to-read list. But I picked it up this month because it is on sale for $1.99 on Kindle for Feb 2022.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree was born in 1914 and lived until 2018, 104 years old. This autobiography was written with the help of Katie McCabe and published originally in 2009 until the title Justice Older than the Law, and then reissued in 2019 with the new title Mighty Justice. Unfortunately, by the time she started working on her autobiography, she had lost her sight due to complications from diabetes. But there are a series of 10 videos of her that were recorded by the VisionaryProject that give a good sense of who she was and what she was like in her early 90s.

When she was four, her father died in the flu epidemic of 1918, and her mother and sisters moved in with her grandparents. Her grandfather was a pastor and well educated. Her grandmother was a guiding force that is frequently mentioned in her autobiography but was disabled due to injuries from fighting off an attempted rape by a white field overseer when she was a young teen. Dovey Johnson Roundtree came of age during the Great Depression but attended Spellman College by working three jobs. Through the kindness of people around her, she graduated when even those three jobs were not enough to keep her in school. She taught middle school for two years to earn enough money to support her family but then moved to Washington DC and began working as a researcher for Mary McCloud Bethune, who she met because of her grandmother. Mary McCloud Bethune was one of the most influential women in Washington as the head of the National Council for Negro Women and one of FDR’s informal Black Cabinet. Bethune worked to ensure that during WWII, the Woman’s Army Corp, there would be Black women included in officer training. Dovey Johnson was included in the first class and one of the first women to be made an Army officer. Due to her push against military segregation, she was blackballed but was not court marshaled, unlike several others. She spent all of WWII working to recruit Black women into the military and working on policy groups for desegregation and women’s rights issues in the military.

In 1947, after her work in the military, she entered Howard Law School after catching a vision for the use of the law in civil rights in her brief work with A Philip Randolph and labor organizing. Because of its location in DC, Howard Law School was the site of a lot of the preparations for the civil rights legal cases at the Supreme Court.

Roundtree and one of her law school classmates, Julius Robertson, started a small law firm in 1952 after they graduated. During that first year of their new law firm, they took on Sarah Keys, who sued the Carolina Coach bus company after being thrown off the bus for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Keys was in military uniform, and this was after the 1946 Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia where the Supreme Court ruled that segregated bus travel was unconstitutional. But there was no enforcement of the 1946 ruling. Roundtree and Robertson sued the bus companies for violation of the contract and for having Sarah Keys arrested for refusing to move seats. They lost the case in state court and appealed the case to the Interstate Commerce Commission administrative judges. For Dovey Johnson Roundtree, this was not just an important case but mirrored her own experience of being ejected from a bus in the same type of incident when she was a military recruiter in 1943. After three years of hearings and legal maneuvers and appeals (in 1955), the full ICC ruled that

“We conclude that the assignment of seats on interstate buses, so designated as to imply the inherent inferiority of a traveler solely because of race or color, must be regarded as subjecting the traveler to unjust discrimination, and undue and unreasonable prejudice and disadvantage…We find that the practice of defendant requiring that Negro interstate passengers occupy space or seats in specified portions of its buses, subjects such passengers to unjust discrimination, and undue and unreasonable prejudice and disadvantage, in violation of Section 216 (d) of the Interstate Commerce Act and is therefore unlawful.”

The Sarah Keys ruling gave interstate Bus companies 60 days to implement desegregation. Still, again the ICC did not enforce their ruling. It took until the 1960 Boynton v. Virginia case and President Kennedy’s intervention with the ICC after the Freedom Riders for federal enforcement of the various rulings over 15 years since the Morgan v Virginia ruling was implemented. Rosa Parks’ famous refusal to move her bus seat happened one week after the Sarah Keyes ICC ruling.

After the Sarah Keyes case, Roundtree and Robertson took on many negligence and injury suits. One of the cases against a federal psychiatric facility resulted in the maximum award allowed under the law at the time ($25,000), and Roundtree began to teach other lawyers about personal injury law. According to the book, that suit was viewed as a major turning point when Black clients started being able to believe that Black lawyers could win in federal counts of DC in front of White judges.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree should be celebrated if those had been her only legal battles. But she was also well known as a criminal defense lawyer, especially Ray Crump. Crump was accused of murdering Mary Pinchot Meyer, a well-known painter who had an ongoing affair with JFK, including while he was president. As is discussed in the book, the sensational issues around Meyer, including her marriage and divorce to a senior leader to the CIA and her diary, which detailed her affair with President Kennedy, were not at issue during the trial. Still, they did make the case more difficult because the FBI and others withheld evidence from Roundtree. That cases led to Roundtree being appointed to a number of indigent defense cases that were both high and low profile.

In 1961, her law partner died unexpectedly, and Rountree began to reevaluate her career and trajectory. While not leaving her work as a lawyer, she did start seminary and was one of the first women to be ordained in the AME church. She had been a regular speaker since her time as a military recruiter. And her faith had been an important part of her life all along. But her ordination did shift her focus around justice. Toward the end of her legal career, she focused on child welfare and family law. Throughout her career, she had been the pro-bono legal counsel for the Council for Negro Women and then the senior council for the AME. She continued to preach after her blindness forced her to retire from the law in 1996.

I am continually reminded how big the civil rights movement was in the US. Yet, so many figures are not well known. And I keep being reminded that Christian faith was central to many civil rights leaders. This book (I alternated between the Kindle and Audiobook versions) is well worth reading.

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Beautiful reading and inspiring story

I first heard of Dovey Johnson Roundtree when listening to the serial podcast, Murder on the Towpath which I recommend to readers of this book. The life story of an admirable woman with a strong sense of justice and full of love, her participation in the Army during World War Two was heroic even though she was never posted overseas. I was surprised she only crossed paths with Pauli Murray but she in that time Murray influenced her choice of law over medicine. Dovey lived in Washington DC for many years. My family lived there through the 1960s so I was enthralled by her stories of a time I had experienced as a girl and sheltered young woman. I look forward to the upcoming book circle conversation about this book.

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🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🥰🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽🙌🏽

This book is AMAZING!!! I never heard of Ms. Roundtree. This book was recommended to me by Audibles algorithms based on my past reading selection. I almost didn't buy this book but I am ELATED that I did. I have more than 70 books on Audible and I have listened to all of them in full. This is the only book, and I love 90%of my book collection, were I was sad that it was ending. The narrator was EXCEPTIONAL. She made me feel like I was a stranger walking with Ms. Roundtree throughout her life. Ms. Roundtree lived a great life of purpose. It is a shame that she hasn't recieved the notoriety she deserves. If you are on the fence about getting this book please get off the fence, buy and listen to this book. You will be very grateful that you did.

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Excellent

This book was excellent! The story telling was intriguing. The timeline was great. This was a history lesson, an exciting story, an inspirational message, and a call to action. I enjoyed every minute.