Dovey Johnson Roundtree -- Civil Rights Activist & More #blacklivesmatter


Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I saw a meme on Facebook recently about how we shouldn't need Black History Month, Asian American History Month, etc. because it should all be covered in US History. My first thought was that I agreed. It would be wonderful to be able to study history and know it was all in there. But I have been thinking more about it. I am remembering my own schooling and how much I found history pretty boring. Back then the books were all about white males with perhaps a mention of a woman or Black person. It was about memorizing dates (how does that help me in real life?) and names and not really about understanding the whys. To me the reason to study history is to understand the whys so we don't repeat the bad things. We need to learn from our mistakes even if the mistakes are of our ancestors. Plus can you imagine how big the history books would be if they included everything. I do believe our history books need to include all history but I love having the heritage months to focus on different groups because otherwise I might not get a chance to read a book like the one I'm sharing today. I might not have learned about Dovey Johnson Roundtree and her significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. Have you heard of Dovey? I know I hadn't until I read this book. The book is Mighty Justice (Young Reader's Edition): The Untold Story of Civil Rights Trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe and adapted by Jabari Asim.

This book has been adapted for middle school readers. Katie McCabe and Dovey Johnson Roundtree wrote Dovey's memoir, Might Justice: My Life in Civil Rights, a young-adult/adult version of the book. Our book is recommended for ages 10-14 and this is a book I would love to see in every middle school library and history class. The story itself is well written and draws the reader in. Unlike some nonfiction it is entertaining and an easy read. Dovey had an amazing life and accomplished so much in her 104 years on Earth. This book shares her life and her memories. There are direct quotes and memories from Dovey in the book. This is a book I could see most middle grade readers loving. Throughout the book there are photographs of the people and events discussed.

Dovey Johnson was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina during the time of segregation. She dreamed of going to Spellman College after hearing about it from a teacher. From that point on she worked hard but money was tight for her tuition. Her mother and she found a way to get her down there and get her eventually enrolled in the college. However she dealt with racism and even got arrested when the white family she worked and lived with for falsely accused her of theft. A white professor bailed her out and helped her stay at Spellman. She got married to Bill Roundtree but the marriage did not last. After Spellman Dovey met with her grandmother's friend, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. She became Dr. Bethune's personal assistant for a short time until the opportunity that Dr. Bethune wanted for Dovey came around. Dovey became one of the first Black women allowed to enlist in the US Army. Dovey was Dr. Bethune's handpicked leader for the women enlisted. Dr. Bethune handpicked the women as well. The goal was for equality and not to be agitators. Dovey became a spokesperson for the Army and traveled the country enlisting more Black women. This was during World War II so help was needed on many fronts. 

At the end of the War Dovey was in New York City and met with A. Philip Randolph as she was deciding what to do next. He asked her to work for the Fair Employment Practice Committee which was on shaky ground due to budget cuts by Congress. As she saw the racism and prejudice that existed Dovey's dream to become a doctor changed. She always wanted to help others and had thought a medical career would be a great way to do that, but she started to see another way to help--becoming a lawyer. She enrolled in Howard University's School of Law. After passing the bar she and her friend, Julius Robertson, opened a law firm. As students and lawyers they had front row seats in conversations and courts watching Thurgood Marshall and others fighting to end Jim Crow. At first their law firm dealt with smaller things like wills and personal law but they did get some bigger cases. Both Dovey and Julius worked other jobs to pay the bills. Dovey had two really important cases for the Civil Rights Movement. The first was Sarah Keys vs. Carolina Coach Company. The courts did not feel they had jurisdiction for the case so it had to be done in movements with the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). The argument was about Sarah Keys being mistreated on a bus once it passed the Mason Dixie Line. Although it was a small victory that took many years to get the ICC said that companies could not force customers to move seats due to the color of their skin. However it was not enforced in the South. The reason it was important however is six years later Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy used that ruling to begin to break down the Jim Crow laws. The ICC was forced to enforce their own ruling in the South. 

Dovey also became a pastor. She took night classes to become one and was associate pastor at Washington's Allen Chapel AME Church. She lost many people she loved in the early 1960s. Julius died as well as her grandmother and the white teacher from Spellman. She however managed to continue working both as a lawyer and a pastor. She had one important case which was United States vs. Raymond Crump Jr. Raymond Crump Jr. was a Black man accused of murdering a white wealthy woman who had connections to the Kennedy family. Dovey spent all her time fighting for this poor man and trying to keep him safe in jail. She managed to win his freedom. It was the first time a Black lawyer won freedom for a Black defendant in a white court. At the time Black people were not allowed to serve on the juries. After her victory she was sent cases other lawyers ran from. She also tried to help Black lawyers learn more and have more success.

As you can see the little bits I have shared from what I learned about Dovey Johnson Roundtree is interesting and this is just a brief part of the book. Her life was truly amazing and I am so glad Katie McCabe found Dovey to write an article which turned into a book and captured this woman's memories and life. I hope you will check it out. This young reader's edition belongs in every middle school!!