Authors Meet Critics: Dylan Penningroth, “Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights”

Part of the Authors Meet Critics Series

three African-American men talking

Please join us in-person on November 14 for an Authors Meet Critics panel on Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights, by Dylan Penningroth, Professor of Law and Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of History at UC Berkeley, and Associate Dean, Program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy / Legal Studies at Berkeley Law. Professor Penningroth will be joined in conversation by Ula Yvette Taylor, Professor and 1960 Chair of Undergraduate Education in the UC Berkeley Department of African American Studies and African Diaspora Studies; and Eric Schickler, Professor, Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott Endowed Chair in the Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley. The panel will be moderated by Waldo E. Martin Jr., the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of American History and Citizenship at UC Berkeley.

The Social Science Matrix “Authors Meet Critics” book series features lively discussions about recently published books authored by social scientists at UC Berkeley. For each event, the author discusses the key arguments of their book with fellow scholars. These events are free and open to the public.

Co-sponsored by the UC Berkeley Jurisprudence and Social Policy (JSP) graduate program, Berkeley School of Law, the Center for the Study of Law and Society (CSLS), the Center for Race and Gender (CRG), and the UC Berkeley Department of History.


If you require an accommodation for effective communication (ASL interpreting/CART captioning, alternative media formats, etc.) or information about campus mobility access features in order to fully participate in this event, please contact Chuck Kapelke at with as much advance notice as possible and at least 7-10 days in advance of the event.

About the Book

The familiar story of civil rights goes something like this: Once, the American legal system was dominated by racist officials who shut Black people out and refused to recognize their basic human dignity. Then, starting in the 1940s, a few brave lawyers ventured south, bent on changing the law—and soon, everyday African Americans joined with them to launch the Civil Rights Movement. In Before the Movement, historian Dylan C. Penningroth overturns this story, demonstrating that Black people had long exercised “the rights of everyday use,” and that this lesser-known private-law tradition paved the way for the modern vision of civil rights. Well-versed in the law, Black people had used it to their advantage for nearly a century to shape how they worked, worshiped, learned, and loved. Based on long-forgotten sources found in the basements of county courthouses, Before the Movement recovers a vision of Black life allied with, yet distinct from, “the freedom struggle.”


Dylan C. Penningroth specializes in African American history and in U.S. socio-legal history. He is the author of Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Civil Rights (2023).  His first book, The Claims of Kinfolk: African American Property and Community in the Nineteenth-Century South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), won the Avery Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians. Penningroth has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, and the Stanford Humanities Center, and has been recognized by the Organization of American Historians’ Huggins-Quarles committee, a Weinberg College Teaching Award (Northwestern University), a McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence (Northwestern), and a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. Before joining UC Berkeley in 2015, Dylan Penningroth was on the faculty of the History Department at the University of Virginia (1999-2002), at Northwestern University (2002-2015), and a Research Professor at the American Bar Foundation (2007-2015).

Ula Yvette Taylor: Ula Taylor is a Professor of African American Studies and the 1960 Chair of Undergraduate Education.  She is the author of several books including the most recent The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam (2017). Her articles on African American Women’s History and feminist theory have appeared in numerous journals and edited volumes. In 2013 she received the Distinguished Professor Teaching Award for the UC Berkeley campus. Ula is most proud, however, of her former students who are transforming the field of Black Studies.

Eric Schickler: Eric Schickler is Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott Professor of Political Science and co-Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of six books, including Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power (2016, with Douglas Kriner) and Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932-1965. Schickler was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2017.   

Waldo E. Martin Jr. (moderator), the Alexander F. and May T. Morrison Professor of American History and Citizenship at UC Berkeley, is the author of No Coward Soldiers: Black Cultural Politics in Postwar America (2005), as well as Brown v. Board of Education: A Short History With Documents (2021) and The Mind of Frederick Douglass (1985). He is a coauthor, with Mia Bay and Deborah Gray White, of Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, With Documents (2021), and, with Joshua Bloom, of Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party (2016). With Patricia A. Sullivan, he coedited Civil Rights in the United States: An Encyclopedia (2000). Aspects of the modern African American freedom struggle and the history of modern social movements unite his current research and writing interests. He is currently completing A Change is Gonna Come: The Cultural Politics of the Black Freedom Struggle and the Making of Modern America. 

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