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Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement

January 13th, 2022 @ 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM


Join Evanston History Center on Thursday, January 13 from noon to 1pm for a special pre-Martin Luther King Jr. Day event as we host Northwestern University professor Kate Masur to discuss her recent book, Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, from the Revolution to Reconstruction. The event will take place on Zoom. It is free. Registration is required:

Masur’s book is a groundbreaking history of the movement for equal rights that courageously battled racist laws and institutions, Northern and Southern, in the decades before the Civil War. The New York Times calls Masur’s book, “A powerful new framing of America’s first civil rights movement.”

The half-century before the Civil War was beset with conflict over equality as well as freedom. Beginning in 1803, many free states enacted laws that discouraged free African Americans from settling within their boundaries and restricted their rights to testify in court, move freely from place to place, work, vote, and attend public school. But over time, African American activists and their white allies, often facing mob violence, courageously built a movement to fight these racist laws. They countered the states’ insistences that states were merely trying to maintain domestic peace with the equal-rights promises they found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They were pastors, editors, lawyers, politicians, ship captains, and countless ordinary men and women, and they fought in the press, the courts, the state legislatures, and Congress, through petitioning, lobbying, party politics, and elections. Long stymied by hostile white majorities and unfavorable court decisions, the movement’s ideals became increasingly mainstream in the 1850s, particularly among supporters of the new Republican party. When Congress began rebuilding the nation after the Civil War, Republicans installed this vision of racial equality in the 1866 Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. These were the landmark achievements of the first civil rights movement.

Kate Masur is a professor of History at Northwestern University. She specializes in the history of race, politics, and law in the nineteenth-century United States. She is the author of numerous books and articles including An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. and, with Gregory Downs, The World the Civil War Made. Masur’s scholarship has recently appeared in The Journal of the Civil War Era and the American Journal of Legal History, and as commentary in the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, and the Washington Post’s “Made By History.”

Order the book from Evanston’s local bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings:


January 13th, 2022
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
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Evanston History Center
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Evanston History Center

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