About the Book


Winner, 2012 Bancroft Prize in U.S. History

Winner, Liberty Legacy Award, Organization American Historians

Advance Praise:

Courage to Dissent is a magnificent achievement, brilliantly analyzing significant tensions within the civil rights movement: between different classes, generations, local and national actors, proponents of direct action and litigation, clients and lawyers. Elegantly written, prodigiously researched, and compellingly argued, Brown-Nagin has made an extraordinary contribution.”–Michael J. Klarman, Harvard Law School, and winner of the 2005 Bancroft Prize for From Jim Crow to Civil Rights

“In an excellent work, Professor Brown-Nagin shines a welcome spotlight on unsung ‘movement lawyers’ like Donald Hollowell, Howard Moore, Jr., and Len Holt–legal warriors and allies of civil rights activists whose courage and skill have gone unrecognized. In the process, she reminds us of the possibility of nobility in the law and the legal profession.”–Julian Bond, Chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1998-2010

“In her magisterial account of the Civil Rights movement in Atlanta, Tomiko Brown-Nagin shows that it was not just elites working at the national level who had the power to change the course of history. Rather, the grassroots, composed of thousands of ordinary citizens, was crucial. Working together involved lots of conflict; yet, Brown-Nagin opens the door on a truly amazing synergy that ushered in a long overdue revolution. Courage to Dissent is a masterpiece of rigorous scholarship, careful analysis and good old-fashioned story-telling.”–Lani Guinier, Professor of Law, Harvard University

“This is an absolutely compelling study of the tangled history of civil rights in Atlanta following World War II (and especially Brown v. Board of Education). No one interested in the actual operation of our fragmented legal system can ignore it, not to mention anyone interested in finding out more about the remarkable cast of characters who contended with one another in trying to shape the future of the South’s most important city.”–Sanford Levinson, Professor of Law and Government, University of Texas


Courage to Dissent will be rightly celebrated for what it is: a textbook example of how local knowledge can be applied to a set of debates that often take place at a high level of generality–those over racial representativeness, and over the role of law in the Jim Crow era…. It deserves many accolades for its immensely detailed local examination of the workings of law and social movements in a field where many scholars have invoked realism but have instead dealt in generalities.”

125 Harvard Law Review 1018 (Feb., 2012)

Courage to Dissent succeeds brilliantly as both narrative history and legal analysis. Brown-Nagin allows the narrative to unfold in all its complexity and contingency, as the dialectic of national and local forces played out over four decades. … Courage to Dissent is an original and convincing approach to the legal history of the civil rights era, a fresh perspective on the Atlanta movement, and a model for integrating the national and local histories of civil rights struggles.”

Journal of American History (Vol. 98, Issue 3, p. 902, Dec., 2011).

“A revelatory and riveting work of history, “Courage to Dissent” is driven by a cast of complex, real-life characters. [It]  has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing, contentious struggles for social change, racial equality and justice.”
Atlanta Daily World (Sept., 2011)

“Noted legal scholar and historian Tomiko Brown-Nagin offers an enlightening exploration of the civil rights movement from the bottom up in Courage to Dissent. Based on rigorous researched, this groundbreaking history celebrates the activism of community members in Atlanta.”  Baltimore Times (June 2, 2011)

“An exceptional work of legal history.”  Jotwell (May, 2011)

From the author:

Len Holt, Birmingham, Alabama. Courtesy of Len Holt.

“Len Holt, Donald Hollowell and Howard Moore, Jr. These names, unfamiliar even to many who are avid readers of civil rights history, feature prominently in Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement. All three – Holt, Hollowell, and Moore – were attorneys who litigated in the federal and state courts and worked in the trenches with political activists and community organizers. They made important contributions to the mid-twentieth century struggle for racial equality – contributions overshadowed when we view the legal history of the movement primarily from the perspective of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Justices who decide landmark cases in the nation’s capital, and the well-known lawyers who litigated marquee cases. Courage to Dissent – a book that blends the legal and social history of the civil rights movement within the context of a particular community – shines a spotlight on these unsung lawyers and the activists with whom they worked. It explores a largely forgotten history of progressive lawyering in postwar America. Its protagonists are legal professionals and agents of change whom we ought to remember.”

ACS Blog (American Constitution Society Book Talk, 02/17/2011)

Read More:

Local People as Law Shapers,” (Poverty & Race Research Council/Defenders’ Online, 05/31/11)

“Biography as History” (Legal History Blog, 02/08/2011)

“Political Dissent, Social Change, and Constitutional History from the Bottom Up” (Legal History Blog, 02/04/2011)

Margie Pitts Hames and the Other Landmark Abortion Rights Case (Legal History Blog, 02/27/11)

Engaging Civil Rights and Pursuing Public Service through Scholarship (Truman Foundation Blog, 3/27/2011)


Julian Bond Expelled from Georgia Legislature, 1966. Courtesy Julian Bond and the University of Virginia.

Published by Oxford University Press (2011)

Available Online at Amazon.com