WISIR is delighted to announce that its Field Director for History and Political Development, Megan Ming Francis, has won both the Ralph J. Bunche Award from the American Political Science Association and the W. E. B. Du Bois Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, for her book Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State (Cambridge University Press, 2014).
WISIR Director Jack Turner sat down with Francis to chat with her about the book.
JT: All books have a genesis. What’s the genesis of this one?
MF: This book happened by mistake. I had planned to research the NAACP’s education campaign but I wanted to do so from a historical perspective. Thus, I decided to conduct archival research but I actually didn’t know how to do archival research so I just started reading from the very beginning. I realized the NAACP was founded in 1909, and for the first two decades of its existence, the NAACP was focused almost exclusively on the issue of racial violence (lynchings and mob violence). Education was rarely discussed. And I was just so confused because I had never read about the NAACP’s racial violence campaign in all of my readings on civil rights. It was at this moment that I decided this story needed to be told.
JT: What was the most surprising thing you discovered as you researched and wrote?
MF: My most surprising finding was the NAACP was behind the landmark Supreme Court decision in Moore v. Dempsey (1923), a case involving 12 African American men who were sentenced to die in Arkansas in a courtroom dominated by a mob. In this case the court declared that mob dominated trials violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. But the significance of this case is that it was the very first case in modern criminal procedure doctrine; the first case where the Supreme Court finally decides to intervene in a state criminal court trial. It was a three-year effort but the NAACP researched, funded, and litigated this case to the highest court in our nation. And by doing so—the NAACP shifted the path of constitutional development.
JT: Who do you most want to read the book? What you do want them to take from it?
MF: I want anyone interested in state development, criminal procedure, social mobilization, and civil rights to read this book! I think the NAACP’s campaign against racial violence in the first quarter of the 20th century has important insights for many people. The NAACP’s campaign to end racial violence shows the power of citizens in moving institutional government structures in new directions. In other words, it emphasizes the importance of bottom-up change. It also provides useful historical context to the contemporary battle against racial violence in the United States.