We Shall Overcome


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A History of Civil Rights and the Law

Alexander Tsesis

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The history of America’s successes and failures in the battles for civil rights, from the Revolutionary period to today.

Despite America’s commitment to civil rights from the earliest days of nationhood, examples of injustices against minorities stain many pages of U.S. history. The battle for racial, ethnic, and gender fairness remains unfinished. This comprehensive book traces the history of legal efforts to achieve civil rights for all Americans, beginning with the years leading up to the Revolution and continuing to our own times. The historical adventure Alexander Tsesis recounts is filled with fascinating events, with real change and disappointing compromise, and with courageous individuals and organizations committed to ending injustice.

Viewing the evolution of civil rights through the lens of legal history, Tsesis considers laws that have restricted civil rights (such as Jim Crow regulations and prohibitions against intermarriage) and laws that have expanded rights (including antisegregation legislation and other legal advances of the civil rights era). He focuses particular attention on the African American fight for civil rights but also discusses the struggles of women, gays and lesbians, Japanese Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Jews. He concludes by assessing the current state of civil rights in the United States and exploring likely future expansions of civil rights.

Alexander Tsesis is assistant professor of law at Loyola University of Chicago, School of Law. His previous books include The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History and Destructive Messages: How Hate Speech Paves the Way for Harmful Social Movements. He lives in Chicago and Milwaukee.

“Alex Tsesis, one of our leading constitutional scholars, superbly demonstrates how the struggle for civil rights in the United States has evolved over the past two centuries.  His sweeping synthesis, combining a sure grasp of legal and political history, provides a perfect foundation for understanding why the issues surrounding minority rights and grievances remain such a dominant force in our nation today.”—David Oshinsky, University of Texas


“This impressive book goes beyond existing works by showing how America’s commitment to equal rights constantly collides with its commitment to liberty.”—Richard Delgado, University of Pittsburgh School of Law

"Tsesis has written an astonishingly clear and compelling history of what most people would define as 'civil rights' over the past two centuries. It is consistently illuminating."—Sanford Levinson, University of Texas School of Law

“Anyone interested in obtaining a broad overview of Americans’ contested history of popular, legislative, and judicial efforts to achieve—and to obstruct—racial and gender equality will benefit from reading We Shall Overcome.”—Mark Tushnet, Harvard Law School


“Alexander Tsesis presents a full, thoughtful, and readable history of civil rights in the United States—an outstanding account from the optimistic, liberal perspective that modern advances are the working out of the egalitarian vision of the American founders.”—Michael Les Benedict, author of The Blessings of Liberty

"All citizens would be wise to read We Shall Overcome."—Eleanor J. Bader, New York Law Journal

"An ambitious history. . . . Effective."—Publishers Weekly


"This work makes an important contribution to civil rights scholarship. . . . I recommend this book to legal scholars, historians, and political scientists."—Steven Tauber, Law and Politics Book Review

"Utilizing history and political science, Tsesis writes a unique book that explores the nature of civil rights law in the U.S. This book views civil rights from both a historical and doctrinal perspective. . . . Tsesis does a great service to the field as he intersperses, with a thoughtful yet objective perspective, how civil rights law in the U.S. might expand in the future."—Choice

"Tsesis has written an engaging overview of many of the key moments in the legal history of civil rights in the United States."--Journal of American Ethnic History

"We Shall Overcome is. . . remarkable for the resolute optimism that it brings to the prospect of achieving equality through law. It is a rich and valuable introduction to the history of civil rights."--Law and History Review

"The book's greatest strength is its breadth of coverage, providing invaluable, concise summaries of legislation, court decisions, and presidential actions across American history and a broad interpretative framework to house these separate pieces."--The Journal of Southern History

We Shall Overcome is a comprehensive history of Civil Rights and the Law in the United States from the revolutionary era to the present. . . . a fine syntheses of the evolution of legal developments concerning Native Americans, sex equity, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, and discrimination based on national origin and language.”—Mary Frances Berry, American Studies

ISBN: 9780300151442
Publication Date: June 23, 2009
384 pages, 5 3/4 x 9