Constance Baker Motley and the American Century: A Biography of Race, Gender, Class, and Social Change

American History/Legal History

This project considers what 20th century American history looks like if it is told through the life and workplace experiences of Constance Baker Motley—the black woman lawyer, politician, and judge who rose from poverty to play a decisive role in three social movements that reconstructed American law and society. A public figure from the Popular Front era through the Reagan Revolution, Motley worked as a change agent in the labor, civil rights, and women’s rights movements before ascending to the federal judiciary. This examination of Motley’s life and times reflects on race, gender, class, and social change in the American Century and yields insights about four matters of general interest. The project comments on: biography and activism; identity and leadership; comparative race relations; and whether women and people of color truly can wield power in American institutions.

This project employs socio-legal history research methods. The research partner will aid the project by conducting research about issues in the secondary literatures on gender and the workplace; the women's movement; women lawyers; leadership; and the immigrant experience in mid-20th century. The research partner will write memos describing the research and will participate in organizing research already conducted for the project.

I am looking for students who have taken one or more courses in 20th-century American history and are adept at research and writing.