Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights
After her father dies in the flu epidemic of 1919, five-year-old Dovey Johnson Roundtree moves with her sisters and mother into the Charlotte, N.C., home of her maternal grandparents. The adults, while poor, see to it that the girls get college educations--"the 'way out' for black people," Roundtree writes. In 1941, she heads to Washington, D.C., making use of her well-connected grandmother's acquaintance with Mary McLeod Bethune, adviser to President Roosevelt. Bethune is in charge of enforcing Roosevelt's ban on racial discrimination in hiring, including in the military. Feeling obliged to support the cause, Roundtree is among several dozen black women who enlist in the newly formed Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. After the war ends, she still wants a career in medicine, but goes to Southern California to make "conversion speeches" on behalf of Roosevelt's Fair Employment Practices Committee. In California, she meets the trailblazing black feminist lawyer Pauli Murray, who tells Roundtree that "the answer for black people... lay in the law."
Roundtree enrolls at Howard University School of Law in 1947, and upon graduating, opens a practice with a black male colleague in the capital, where "a black lawyer had to leave the courthouse to use the bathroom or eat a meal." Her memoir, Mighty Justice, devotes individual chapters to Roundtree's most significant cases, like the desegregation powder keg Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company.
In this apparent golden age of memoir, some stories shine brighter than others. Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights is one lucent example of the brighter variety. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer