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Archive for March 2nd, 2020

This Just In: Mighty Justice, My Life in Civil Rights

Dovey Johnson Roundtree was an African-American civil rights activist, minister, and attorney who lived to the age of 104.

Her 1955 victory before the Interstate Commerce Commission is the first bus desegregation case to be brought before the Commission, which resulted in the only explicit repudiation of the “separate but equal” doctrine in the field of interstate bus transportation by a court or federal administrative body. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy pointed to this decision in his successful battle to compel the Commission to enforce its rulings and end Jim Crow laws in public transportation.

Roundtree was part of the first class of African-American women to be trained as officers in the newly created Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women’s Army Corps) during World War II. In 1961 she became one of the first women to receive full ministerial status in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which had just begun ordaining women at a level beyond mere preachers in 1960.

Roundtree was also a pioneer in the field of law, being the first African-American admitted to the Women’s Bar of the District of Columbia, and was the founding partner of the Washington, D.C. law firm Roundtree, Knox, Hunter and Parker.

Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights was written with Katie McCabe, a writer whose work on unsung heroes, many of them in the African-American community, has garnered wide attention.

McCabe’s discovery of the work of Roundtree came from a Washington Post piece on Roundtree’s collaboration with actress Cicely Tyson for the television series “Sweet Justice.” McCabe then profiled Roundtree in a Washingtonian magazine piece titled “She Had a Dream,” which won the 2003 Dateline Award for Feature Writing from the DC Society of Professional Journalists. Mighty Justice (originally published in 2009 with the title Justice Older than the Law) is the product of a 12-year collaboration between McCabe and Roundtree, which began in Washington shortly before Roundtree’s retirement to Charlotte in 1996.

The book is an easy-to-read and fascinating story that details Roundtree’s accomplishments noted above. It is available in the New Arrivals area of the law library.