Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights

Rate this book
“Dovey Johnson Roundtree set a new path for women and proved that the vision and perseverance of a single individual can turn the tides of history.”
—Michelle Obama

In Mighty Justice, trailblazing African American civil rights attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree recounts her inspiring life story that speaks movingly and urgently to our racially troubled times. From the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, to the segregated courtrooms of the nation’s capital; from the male stronghold of the army where she broke gender and color barriers to the pulpits of churches where women had waited for years for the right to minister—in all these places, Dovey Johnson Roundtree sought justice. At a time when African American attorneys had to leave the courthouses to use the bathroom, Roundtree took on Washington’s white legal establishment and prevailed, winning a 1955 landmark bus desegregation case that would help to dismantle the practice of “separate but equal” and shatter Jim Crow laws. Later, she led the vanguard of women ordained to the ministry in the AME Church in 1961, merging her law practice with her ministry to fight for families and children being destroyed by urban violence.

Dovey Roundtree passed away in 2018 at the age of 104. Though her achievements were significant and influential, she remains largely unknown to the American public. Mighty Justice corrects the historical record.

304 pages, Paperback

First published November 5, 2019

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Dovey Johnson Roundtree

4 books22 followers
Dovey Johnson Roundtree (April 17, 1914 – May 21, 2018) was an African-American civil rights activist, ordained minister, and attorney. Her 1955 victory before the Interstate Commerce Commission in the first bus desegregation case to be brought before the ICC resulted in the only explicit repudiation of the "separate but equal" doctrine in the field of interstate bus transportation by a court or federal administrative body.[1] That case, Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company (64 MCC 769 (1955)), which Dovey Roundtree argued with her law partner and mentor Julius Winfield Robertson, was invoked by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the 1961 Freedom Riders' campaign in his successful battle to compel the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce its rulings and end Jim Crow laws in public transportation.[2]

A protégé of black activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, Roundtree was selected by Bethune for the first class of African-American women to be trained as officers in the newly created Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women's Army Corps)[3] during World War II. In 1961 she became one of the first women to receive full ministerial status in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which had just begun ordaining women at a level beyond mere preachers in 1960.[4] With her controversial admission to the all-white Women's Bar of the District of Columbia in 1962, she broke the color bar for minority women in the Washington legal community.[5] In one of Washington's most sensational and widely covered murder cases, United States v. Ray Crump, tried in the summer of 1965 on the eve of the Watts riots, Roundtree won acquittal for the black laborer accused of the murder of Georgetown socialite (and former wife of a CIA officer) Mary Pinchot Meyer,[6] a woman with romantic ties to President John F. Kennedy.[7]

The founding partner of the Washington, D.C. law firm of Roundtree, Knox, Hunter and Parker in 1970 following the death of her first law partner Julius Robertson in 1961, Roundtree was special consultant for legal affairs to the AME Church, and General Counsel to the National Council of Negro Women.[8] She was the inspiration for actress Cicely Tyson's depiction of a maverick civil rights lawyer in the television series "Sweet Justice",[9] and the recipient, along with retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, of the American Bar Association's 2000 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award.[10] In 2011 a scholarship fund was created in her name by the Charlotte Chapter of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College. Roundtree also received the 2011 Torchbearer Award from the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the organization which she integrated in 1962. Following her death in 2018, the Women's Bar of DC created The Dovey Roundtree Rule to guide Washington law firms in increasing the hiring of minority women for leadership positions. In March 2013 an affordable senior living facility in the Southeast Washington DC community where she ministered was named "The Roundtree Residences" in her honor.[11] She turned 100 in April 2014[12] and died at the age of 104 in May 2018

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
110 (59%)
4 stars
58 (31%)
3 stars
12 (6%)
2 stars
4 (2%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 52 reviews
Profile Image for Tina Loves To Read.
2,453 reviews1 follower
March 5, 2023
This is a Non-fiction about Dovey Roundtree fighting for her Civil Rights. Dovey is a strong woman that did so much in her live, and I loved reading about how she did it. I really loved reading this book. This really touched my heart, and it will stay with me for a while. I won a paperback copy of this book from a goodreads giveaway, but this review is 100% my own opinion.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,707 reviews742 followers
July 6, 2019
I received a copy of “Mighty Justice My Life in Civil Rights” by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe from the publisher. This in no way influenced my review.

I was amazed at the fortitude of Roundtree for what she had to go through to accomplish her goals and just to survive. She not only had to deal with the problems of segregation and all the hatred of blacks, but she was a black female attempting to go to law school and then practice law. This was at a time when white women were fighting for admission to law school and to practice law. She had an interesting string of professions from a Civil Rights worker, officer in the WAAC in WWII and from attorney to minister.

The book is well written and organized. The back of the book has lots of documentation as well as a thorough index. The book is easy to ready. In no time I was involved in her life’s story. I was fascinated by all the famous Civil Rights people she worked with besides meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt. Dovey Roundtree was a remarkable woman and that was captured by the author. I highly recommend this book. This would be a good reading project for high school or college students.

I read this in a soft-cover 6x9 format book. It is 288 pages. I received an advance reading copy, but I hope when the book is printed in its final format the print is either a bit larger or darker to make it easier to read of us older sight impaired people.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,241 reviews533 followers
December 3, 2019
Dovey Johnson Roundtree, who died at the age of 104 in 2018, lived, witnessed or helped change much of what we know as the area of civil rights in the United States during her lifetime. Raised by a strong mother but even stronger grandmother, she was taught her worth as a human being, as a black person and as as a female. Over the course of her life, she encountered more women, and men, who were both champions and role models as she slowly worked toward her goals. Along the way, she helped black women and black people in general attain legal landmarks that had been long promised and never delivered.

The granddaughter of a minister, she was always close to the church no matter what else she was attempting to conquer. With assistance from people in the right places and family support, she attended Spelman College in Atlanta. Her description of earning her keep working as housekeeper and nanny in a white home is chilling. But again she was blessed with unexpected support. After college and a couple of years working as a teacher, Roundtree changed direction; in 1941 she headed for Washington, D.C. to see if there was a place for her in the changing government world, where the president had issued an executive order banning discrimination in defense industry hiring.

What she found, at the behest of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, was an unexpected road forward, Dr. Bethune and Mrs. Roosevelt’s plan/desire to bring women into the armed services. Yes, Roundtree was an important part of that program which is fully discussed in this work. Needless to say it was difficult, painful and took years for full results but Dovey played a major role at the inception of the plan.

After the war came life as a community organizer as she became more and more knowledgeable and certain of her skills. Then she realized that there was another step she needed to take if she were to truly help her people. She must study law, become a lawyer to help so many people who had never found satisfaction when they had been wronged, especially by the white establishment.

Much of the rest of the book deals with her law school experiences and her law practice years, including major verdicts involving landmark rulings in interstate transportation and racial discrimination. And she even found the time and wherewithal to become a minister while still practicing law.

All in all, Dovey Johnson Roundtree seems to have lived more than one life in her 104 years, and lived them fully, without need for apology to anyone, with pride in her accomplishments and her ability to help people, her people. You will feel her voice coming through clearly. Katie McCabe provides a brief afterword on her work with Roundtree. The finished edition will have a forward by Tayari Jones.

I recommend this to anyone interested in biography/memoir and history, especially of the civil rights movement of 20th century United States.

A copy of this book was provided by Algonquin Books in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Howard.
333 reviews231 followers
August 3, 2019
I received an advanced copy of Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe in exchange for a fair and objective review.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree (1914-2018) was a trailblazing civil rights activist, attorney, and ordained minister.

Despite her many accomplishments, when she died in 2018 and received detailed obituaries in major newspapers a common reaction among readers was “Why haven’t I ever heard of her before?” That meant that there was almost a general lack of awareness of her autobiography which had been published in 2009 under the title of Justice Older than the Law.

In November of this year, Algonquin Books plans to publish a tenth anniversary edition of the autobiography, but with a new title, Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights. I have read the advanced copy and it strikes me that it is a book that deserves a place on the shelf next to John Lewis’s Walking with the Wind. These inspirational books deserve a wide readership at any time, but particularly now as America descends into a vortex of racial intolerance and divisiveness, as exemplified by the attitude and actions of the nation’s chief executive.

What follows is a partial list of Roundtree’s many accomplishments:

• During WWII, she was one of the first women of any color to become an officer in the newly established Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women’s Army Corps). She eventually rose to the rank of captain even though she flirted with a court-martial as a result of her outspokenness in her efforts to win equal status for black women in the military.

• During the first year of her legal practice she and her law partner, Julius Winfield Robertson, challenged the segregation of interstate bus transportation. The U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia dismissed the case, but Roundtree and Robertson took the case to the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was forced to repudiate the policies of transportation companies that allowed drivers to force black passengers to sit in the back of the bus.

• In 1961, she was the first woman to achieve full ministerial status in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

• Despite much resistance, in 1962 she became the first black woman to be admitted to the Women’s Bar of the District of Columbia.

• For little or no pay, she and her firm represented many poor black defendants in criminal cases and poor black litigants in civil cases.

• In her later years, partly as a result of her ministry, she became a staunch advocate for children and families.

• She continued to practice law into her eighties.

This list in no way tells the entire story, of course. There is much, much more to learn about Dovey Johnson Roundtree. The real story is how she was able to surmount the many obstacles placed in her path on the way to achieving her goals. And she was the first to admit that down through the years she had been aided by a remarkable group of mentors, beginning with her maternal grandmother.

In her nineties she lost her sight due to diabetes. But in November 2008, in her hometown of Charlotte, N.C., and with the help of a friend, she went to the polls and voted for Barack Obama.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Never Without a Book.
468 reviews99 followers
January 16, 2020
I couldn’t put this book down. ⁣⁣
Dovey Mae Johnson Roundtree was an African American civil rights activist and attorney who secured one of the most significant victories against Jim Crow segregation, and broke the color barrier of the Women's Bar in Washington D.C.⁣⁣
In her memoir “Mighty Justice” Roundtree recounts her extraordinary life, weaving in personal memories with history like, the Great Depression , World War II, Brown v. Board and more. Raised by her strong mother and grandmother, Roundtree was taught her worth not only as a woman, but a Black woman. ⁣⁣
I searched for some of Roundtree’s cases out of curiosity and my goodness, this woman was truly remarkable. I highly recommend you check this book out.⁣⁣
Profile Image for Linden.
1,470 reviews1 follower
June 27, 2019
Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, who grew up in rural North Carolina, graduated from Spellman College in the 1930's, became an officer in the segregated Women's Army Corps during World War II, and graduated from law school at a time when neither blacks nor women were welcome in that profession. Her experience growing up in the Jim Crow south was a tremendous influence in her fight for justice, providing the basis for a fascinating and uplifting biography of an indomitable woman.
Profile Image for Nancy.
1,439 reviews331 followers
September 1, 2019
Mighty Justice begins with a powerful chapter of Dovey remembering her grandmother's nightly ritual of soothing her gnarled and twisted feet after a day of nonstop work. Hearing the story of how her feet were broken, and the courage she showed standing up to power, is unforgettable.

Each chapter is vividly rendered in Dovey's voice, telling her story of accomplishing what most would have deemed impossible. The remarkable people who inspired and mentored Dovey over her life are lovingly portrayed, from her grandmother to Mary McLeod Bethune, her teacher Mary Mae Neptune who personally sacrificed to keep Dovey in college, Julius Winfield Robertson who became her law partner, her pastors, her family and those she adopted as family.

"Out of our indebtedness I believe, our real selves are born. For it is when we grasp what we owe, how beholden we truly are, that we remain children no longer." ~Dovey Johnson Roundtree, Mighty Justice

But Dovey herself also was a mentor, ministering to her people. She was a defender of the weak and a rectifier of injustice. She came to recognize that children were the victims of racism and violence and how children mirrored the violence in their lives through their actions. She came to believe that in ministering to children and changing their lives, "redemption is truly possible."

Determined to change the world, Dovey earned a law degree, was in the first wave of African American women in the Women's Army Auxillary Corps championed by her grandmother's friend Mary McLeod Bethune, argued at the bar for an end to segregation on the railways, and was one of the first women to be ordained in the African Methodist Church. Each chapter of her life is riveting and thrilling with a story arc all its own. The law cases were well presented in their historical context with moving insight into Dovey's personal dedication and hopes.

And the ending of the book, Benediction, brings the story full circle, back to the inspiring grandmother whose example first inspired Dovey.

Katie McCabe words have recreated Roundtree's voice in a narrative that is thrilling and moving.

I received an ARC from the publisher through a LibraryThing giveaway in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
Profile Image for LAPL Reads.
543 reviews167 followers
February 25, 2020
Dovey Johnson Roundtree was an African American civil rights leader and activist, an attorney and an ordained minister. Her life and contributions are not that well known. Born in 1914, she came of age in a time when African Americans could take nothing for granted about their personal safety, and had no expectations at all about fair and equitable treatment in their personal or professional lives. Roundtree's life is a reminder of how things were, and what it took for her to endure and persist to bring about change. This is Roundtree's autobiography, a life that was rich with courage, fortitude and determination, and the faith that nurtured her through the good and bad times.

She took inspiration from her maternal grandmother, who had a third-grade education, but was an influential leader in Charlotte, North Carolina's black community; from Mary Mae Neptune, a white woman who was one of her professors and indefatigable mentors at Spelman College; and from Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt. In many ways she was the right woman at a very wrong time. In her actions she demonstrated that she was determined to help bend that “ … arc of the moral universe toward justice," sooner rather than later. There has never been a right time to fight injustices, and no one gives out invitations to the fight. Dovey Johnson Roundtree was someone who took it upon herself to fight for the right causes. During World War II, Dr. Bethune sent Dovey to be part of the first class of African American women trained as officers in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. That hellacious experience and her triumphs should be a clarion call to historians to do a great deal more research about Roundtree's experiences.

To fight injustice she found a true calling in the law. She attended Howard University, a black university, where she was in the minority as one of the few women in her class. In 1955, along with her law partner, Julius Winfield Roberston, they brought a case before the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which was the first bus desegregation case that legally invalidated "separate but equal." According to Roundtree, "The ICC capitulated, issued regulations banning Jim Crow laws from buses, trains, and stations, and began enforcing them. And so it ended--not the hatred, nor the violence, but the fact of segregation on buses and in terminals and restrooms and places that served them." She and Robertson took on cases representing black clients, in either civil or criminal courts. After Robertson's death, Roundtree soldiered on defending cases and causes that seemed overwhelming and unwinnable. Her deep, abiding faith and ministry sustained her through times of fear and doubt.

This is her autobiography, and it is a much too-short accounting of a remarkable life. According to the book's bibliography, Roundtree's papers are at the National Archives for Black Women's History of the Mary McLeod Bethune National Historic Site. (Collection limited to Dovey Roundtree's military papers.)

Dovey Johnson Roundtree died in 2018 and was 104 years old.

Reviewed by Sheryn Morris, Librarian, Central Library
Profile Image for Natalie Tanner.
210 reviews21 followers
April 13, 2020
Though Mighty Justice was a hard read at times, it was worth it. This book taught me more about the Civil Rights Movement than maybe my entire education. Dovey Johnson Roundtree made herself out of nothing and helped others do the same. She experienced sexism and racism at every turn, yet still believed in not only equality, but a “beloved community”. Attorney Roundtree isn’t among the civil rights activists we learned about and talk about, but she should be. The world would be a much more equal, and kinder, place if we had just a few more copies of her in the world.
Profile Image for Fab2k.
409 reviews
September 2, 2019
If I could give this book 10 stars, I would. Fascinating story of Dovey Johnson Roundtree, civil rights activist, attorney, minister, grandmother, foster mother and mentor. I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of Mrs. Roundtree until I received this book. How can it be that such important history makers are left out of school textbooks and classes on recent US history? Somehow Roundtree was left out of any history books I was raised on. I'm glad to learn of her life and story from this autobiography. I liked how Roundtree included bits and parts of all the different seasons of her life- as a child growing up, a student and college student, a law school student, a ministry student, an officer in the WACS, a wife, activist, law partner, writer, instructor. I was touched by her drivenness and her ultimate goal- to redeem, to free and to right injustices that came her way, no matter how hard it was. Her ambitions were not about herself, not about prestige, making a name for herself; she sincerely and humbly wanted to help people wrongly accused and to make a way for those discriminated against. Her courage and tenacity in the face of adversity, hatred and bigotry were admirable to say the least. A lesser person would have given up the fight when faced with the many obstacles thrown her way, by bigoted judges, hateful employers and scared peers. Throughout the book, Roundtree made a point to always mention her mentors who inspired and encouraged her to continue her battle and calling: her Grandmother Rachel, her teacher Miss Neptune, activist Dr Bethune and professor Dr Nabrit, as well as her first law partner Julius Winfield Robertson. Roundtree was a noble hero and left a legacy for the younger generation to aspire to. The co-writer of this book, Katie McCabe, did a fabulous job of research and interviewing as well as writing this story with Roundtree. Highly recommend this book to everyone.
Profile Image for Teresa.
661 reviews
November 26, 2019
I chose to read this ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of "Mighty Justice" in exchange for my review as part of the Gaithersburg Book Festival planning committee. It is a must read. Wonderfully written, historical account of a strong female and civil rights leader during a turbulent time in American history...events which happened not that long ago.

Dovey Roundtree grew up in North Carolina as one of four children raised by her mother and grandmother after her father's death from influenza in 1918. She attended Spelman College & Howard University School of Law. She was one of the first African American women to be trained as an officer in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corp during WWII. She was so remarkable. The cases the book describes, the people in her life that she credits with her successes, and the historical influence and context of these events are extraordinary. I don't want to reveal too much to someone who intends to read this book as the discovery was part of what held my interest. But, read it before doing a wikipedia search on this name.

I won't ever forget her grandmother's broken feet, Dovey's bus ride, the surprise at Union Station, her generosity and lifelong kindness to a client's daughter, her first law partner, that professor at Spelman, and Ray Crump's defense.

This book took me much longer to read than anticipated. I thought I would finish it in less than a week, but when some events have happened in my life, my concentration slips. My father is failing and my emotions & energy level were depleted. I'm so very glad that my ability to focus has finally returned and this book is the likely reason! Very powerful & inspirational reminder of what it is to be a strong woman, to accept our limitations and to remember that even with limitations, what we choose to do still matters. A worthy role model for all who seek strength and balance in our lives.

Highly, highly recommend. 5* stars
Profile Image for Reka Beezy.
803 reviews31 followers
December 2, 2022
What an inspiring woman! I enjoyed the read because it felt lyrical. Lots of autobiography and biography books are stuffy, but this one wasn’t…well, aside from the sections that were filled with legalese. Her life and works are worth knowing!
Profile Image for Adam Shields.
1,658 reviews87 followers
February 18, 2022
Takeaway: Part of the importance of Black history month is to focus on the less well-known figures because so much has been repressed or forgotten. 

So many historical figures have made so many small contributions to our world that it is hard to believe that any single person could have done so much. And at the same time, the fact that they are are not more well known is a testament to how our memories are fickle. I was not aware of Dovey Johnson Roundtree, and I honestly do not remember why or when the book ended up on my to-read list. But I picked it up this month because it is on sale for $1.99 on Kindle for Feb 2022.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree was born in 1914 and lived until 2018, 104 years old. This autobiography was written with the help of Katie McCabe and published originally in 2009 until the title Justice Older than the Law, and then reissued in 2019 with the new title Mighty Justice. Unfortunately, by the time she started working on her autobiography, she had lost her sight due to complications from diabetes. But there are a series of 10 videos of her that were recorded by the VisionaryProject that give a good sense of who she was and what she was like in her early 90s.

When she was four, her father died in the flu epidemic of 1918, and her mother and sisters moved in with her grandparents. Her grandfather was a pastor and well educated. Her grandmother was a guiding force that is frequently mentioned in her autobiography but was disabled due to injuries from fighting off an attempted rape by a white field overseer when she was a young teen. Dovey Johnson Roundtree came of age during the Great Depression but attended Spellman College by working three jobs. Through the kindness of people around her, she graduated when even those three jobs were not enough to keep her in school. She taught middle school for two years to earn enough money to support her family but then moved to Washington DC and began working as a researcher for Mary McCloud Bethune, who she met because of her grandmother. Mary McCloud Bethune was one of the most influential women in Washington as the head of the National Council for Negro Women and one of FDR's informal Black Cabinet. Bethune worked to ensure that during WWII, the Woman's Army Corp, there would be Black women included in officer training. Dovey Johnson was included in the first class and one of the first women to be made an Army officer. Due to her push against military segregation, she was blackballed but was not court marshaled, unlike several others. She spent all of WWII working to recruit Black women into the military and working on policy groups for desegregation and women's rights issues in the military.

In 1947, after her work in the military, she entered Howard Law School after catching a vision for the use of the law in civil rights in her brief work with A Philip Randolph and labor organizing. Because of its location in DC, Howard Law School was the site of a lot of the preparations for the civil rights legal cases at the Supreme Court.

Roundtree and one of her law school classmates, Julius Robertson, started a small law firm in 1952 after they graduated. During that first year of their new law firm, they took on Sarah Keys, who sued the Carolina Coach bus company after being thrown off the bus for refusing to move to the back of the bus. Keys was in military uniform, and this was after the 1946 Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia where the Supreme Court ruled that segregated bus travel was unconstitutional. But there was no enforcement of the 1946 ruling. Roundtree and Robertson sued the bus companies for violation of the contract and for having Sarah Keys arrested for refusing to move seats. They lost the case in state court and appealed the case to the Interstate Commerce Commission administrative judges. For Dovey Johnson Roundtree, this was not just an important case but mirrored her own experience of being ejected from a bus in the same type of incident when she was a military recruiter in 1943. After three years of hearings and legal maneuvers and appeals (in 1955), the full ICC ruled that

"We conclude that the assignment of seats on interstate buses, so designated as to imply the inherent inferiority of a traveler solely because of race or color, must be regarded as subjecting the traveler to unjust discrimination, and undue and unreasonable prejudice and disadvantage...We find that the practice of defendant requiring that Negro interstate passengers occupy space or seats in specified portions of its buses, subjects such passengers to unjust discrimination, and undue and unreasonable prejudice and disadvantage, in violation of Section 216 (d) of the Interstate Commerce Act and is therefore unlawful."

The Sarah Keys ruling gave interstate Bus companies 60 days to implement desegregation. Still, again the ICC did not enforce their ruling. It took until the 1960 Boynton v. Virginia case and President Kennedy's intervention with the ICC after the Freedom Riders for federal enforcement of the various rulings over 15 years since the Morgan v Virginia ruling was implemented. Rosa Parks' famous refusal to move her bus seat happened one week after the Sarah Keyes ICC ruling.

After the Sarah Keyes case, Roundtree and Robertson took on many negligence and injury suits. One of the cases against a federal psychiatric facility resulted in the maximum award allowed under the law at the time ($25,000), and Roundtree began to teach other lawyers about personal injury law. According to the book, that suit was viewed as a major turning point when Black clients started being able to believe that Black lawyers could win in federal counts of DC in front of White judges.

Dovey Johnson Roundtree should be celebrated if those had been her only legal battles. But she was also well known as a criminal defense lawyer, especially Ray Crump. Crump was accused of murdering Mary Pinchot Meyer, a well-known painter who had an ongoing affair with JFK, including while he was president. As is discussed in the book, the sensational issues around Meyer, including her marriage and divorce to a senior leader to the CIA and her diary, which detailed her affair with President Kennedy, were not at issue during the trial. Still, they did make the case more difficult because the FBI and others withheld evidence from Roundtree. That cases led to Roundtree being appointed to a number of indigent defense cases that were both high and low profile.

In 1961, her law partner died unexpectedly, and Rountree began to reevaluate her career and trajectory. While not leaving her work as a lawyer, she did start seminary and was one of the first women to be ordained in the AME church. She had been a regular speaker since her time as a military recruiter. And her faith had been an important part of her life all along. But her ordination did shift her focus around justice. Toward the end of her legal career, she focused on child welfare and family law. Throughout her career, she had been the pro-bono legal counsel for the Council for Negro Women and then the senior council for the AME. She continued to preach after her blindness forced her to retire from the law in 1996.

I am continually reminded how big the civil rights movement was in the US. Yet, so many figures are not well known. And I keep being reminded that Christian faith was central to many civil rights leaders. This book (I alternated between the Kindle and Audiobook versions) is well worth reading.

Profile Image for Amerynth.
808 reviews24 followers
August 23, 2019
I received a free copy of Dovey Johnson Roundtree's memior "Mighty Justice: My life in civil rights" through LT's early reviewers program. I was unfamiliar with Roundtree but thought any book about the struggles of civil rights leaders would be a bit of a pick-me-up, and boy was I right about that.

Roundtree was a pioneering black woman -- joining the Army, becoming an attorney and ultimately a minister -- as well as arguing some interesting civil rights cases. Her story is terrific and is told really well. A born fighter, Roundtree is a shining example of how important it is to continue the struggle even when the deck seems stacked against you.

I think you'll need to have a bit of interest in legal cases to enjoy this book as there is a heavy focus on legal arguments at its core. Roundtree's story is an interesting one and I'm glad to have had a chance to read about her.
Profile Image for thewanderingjew.
1,513 reviews19 followers
September 20, 2019
Mighty Justice, Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe
From the first page, it is difficult not to be touched by the brutal honesty of this author. Her life was not easy. Jim Crow laws constantly obstructed her endeavors, but she never seemed to falter or give up her goals. Born in 1914, Dovey lived a long and fruitful life. She left her mark on history. Early on, she wanted to study medicine, but she eventually changed course and went into the law instead, but not before she helped to start a branch of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps for women of color. She also became an ordained minister. When she reached the age 104, in 2018, she joined her maker.
Although this story was written a decade ago, with the title Justice Under the Law, it is being republished now as a paperback. It is even more pertinent today. It is written with a fine clear-headed approach to civil rights, without the anger that is so prevalent in current books that attempt to deal with and describe the battle for equality for all or, better put, for human rights for everyone, equally.
Dovey, with the help of her co-author, has written this book with an exceptional amount of respect for every incident she experienced. She was a trailblazer who paved the way for the repeal of Jim Crow laws that cruelly enforced segregation. Because she lived such a long life, this book covers the history of many racial issues, particularly the practice of separate but equal opportunity in schools, in transportation, and on the battlefield. With her partner, Julius Robertson, she fought for equal rights for people of color and accomplished much with the NAACP. They fought for the cause of women’s rights as well. Undaunted by anything placed in her way, she marched on to success, against all odds.
I think this book should be required reading because it clearly and concisely truly explains the civil rights issues faced throughout history and to this day. Dovey’s actions and vision always seemed to be driven first, by compassion coupled with ambition and a need to participate in the civil rights struggle and better the world. She works with names that are written on the pages of history and yet were unknown to me. Some were common knowledge, like Martin Luthor King and Thurgood Marshall, others were less known like Dr Mary McLeod Bethune, and lesser known like her professor, the Reverend James Madison Nabrit and her savior, Mae Neptune. These people deserve their day in the sun because their efforts truly did change the world.
Although she was angry when young, once she overcame her anger towards white people, Dovey Johnson Roundtree used her energy to improve the plight of others and to benefit the cause of civil rights in positive ways. Her heroine was a white teacher who inspired and led her in many ways to see inside herself and to carefully examine the problems she would face. She rescued her on many occasions and introduced her to other civil rights activists of the day. Dovey’s family instilled in her a feeling of self worth and she spent most of her life helping others to do the same. She was a heroine in all ways!
I was interested in the facts about Plessy vs Brown, from which the idea of “separate but equal” was established. It seems that the judge thought that races sought to be together, yet today, the opposite seems to be the goal. People are becoming more and more tribal in a culture becoming more and more infused with identity politics. Those who once sought to be united, are now seeking to divide themselves again with safe spaces, ethnic dorms, classes only for those with similar backgrounds, and custom curriculums designed for specific groups of people. Is this the way of the future?
In conclusion, there is a truth to this book that is often absent in books about racial discrimination and the fight for equality and civil rights. Roundtree’s telling is so heartfelt and cites so many real incidents that the reader can identify with, that the book becomes more important by the page. She rolls up her sleeves every time she faces defeat and fights back with intellect, not emotion or anger, brains not brawn. She faces all the aspects of discrimination anyone could face and stares them down with courage and character.
Her gentle way of telling the story gives the reader pause. How could someone so harassed by society be so patient and peaceful in her approach while at the same time waging war against the establishment? Read it slowly in order to absorb the treasure trove of philosophy as well as information.
November 18, 2019
Award-winning author Katie McCabe worked for 10 years in collaboration with African American activist Dovey Johnson Roundtree to create this remarkable chronicle of one of the 20th century’s outstanding military, legal and civil rights luminaries.

MIGHTY JUSTICE begins and ends with vignettes casting light on Roundtree’s early years, growing up in respectable poverty in a black ghetto of Charlotte, North Carolina. Her grandmother Rachel, who held the family together through crisis after crisis, had horribly misshapen feet, bathing them each day after painfully performing all necessary chores. One day, she told her granddaughter, Dovey Mae, what caused her crippled state: an overseer on the farm where her father worked tried to rape her as a young girl, and when she ran, he stomped on her feet, mangling them into broken bones. But still somehow, she escaped.

That spirit --- which also made Rachel get off a streetcar and walk home when the conductor called her granddaughter a “pickaninny” --- kept food on the table, however sparsely, when Roundtree’s father died of influenza and her mother fell into a deep depression. It was a spirit that Roundtree would absorb when, with urging from Rachel, she went to the big, dangerous city of Atlanta to college. There she met a courageous white teacher, Mae Neptune, a northern Quaker who became her champion, even supporting her financially to complete college in the dark years of the Great Depression.

Another long-term backer of this promising, highly intelligent young woman was Mary McLeod Bethune, a renowned educator and consultant to Eleanor Roosevelt on Negro women’s issues. Bethune would find a place for Roundtree in the first group of black women in the military in World War II, where she would attain the rank of captain. After the war, Roundtree attended Howard University, became an attorney in Washington, D.C. and participated in two seminal cases: one aimed at desegregating public transport, and the other in defense of a black man falsely accused of murder because of his innocent presence at the crime scene. She took on his defense for the fee of one dollar and won with dazzling skill, cementing her reputation in upper legal echelons.

Roundtree passed away in 2018 at the age of 104, being one of the last personal observers of and high-profile participants in the early civil rights era. She was a dynamic speaker who excelled in the ministry in her later years. McCabe was fortunate to work in close communication with this amazing woman and record her memories in what she describes as a transformative relationship. For McCabe’s part, she brought Roundtree’s extraordinary autobiography into the spotlight. In return, Dovey Johnson Roundtree “gave me her trust.”

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott
Profile Image for Suzette.
49 reviews
September 20, 2019
Mighty Woman
This memoir is alternately inspiring and disquieting, as the author relates her childhood with her formidable grandmother, her school years being mentored by other great women, including Mary McLeod Bethune, her groundbreaking work in the military during WWII, and her career as a civil rights lawyer and later minister, always giving credit to those that helped her. She fought against Jim Crow her entire life, and was one of two lawyers who eventually won the landmark case "Sarah Keys v. Carolina Bus Company", ending Jim Crow practices on bus routes in the South. I had never heard of Ms. Roundtree prior to reading this book, which is a great shame considering that I'm a lawyer myself. She experienced and fought misogyny and racism throughout her life, persevering despite periods of ill health and great grief. Ms. Roundtree took on some truly interesting cases, including the successful defense of a man accused of killing a Washington socialite (it was later revealed that the woman had been JFK's mistress), and the representation of a man in a divorce matter who later killed his ex-wife and a doctor and shot others in a jealous rage. While I had studied "Brown v. Board of Education" in law school, never have I read such an inspiring description of the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling on the lives of black Americans. There are certain great people who pave the way for others and make life better for many and Ms. Roundtree is one of those people. And, boy, can she write! Katie McCabe is the co-author and the two have created an important work that has relevance to today's events. One cannot read this book without thinking of the racism still prevalent, including the white supremacist march in Virginia in 2017 and the countless other indignities and crimes against people of color. (My reading copy lacks the foreword by Tayari Jones, who wrote "An American Marriage" - I'm really looking forward to reading that when the book is published!) Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Julia Alberino.
390 reviews6 followers
September 17, 2019
Full disclosure: I received an ARC for free in exchange for agreeing to write an honest review.

In this remarkable book, the late Dovey Johnson Roundtree and her collaborator Katie McCabe present the history of the U.S. civil rights movement pre and post-Brown v. Board of Education in a way that made me understand both the struggle for equal rights and the U.S. Constitution in new ways. It also caused me to question the deficits in my own education, in that I had up to this point never read or heard anything about Ms. Roundtree. In her long, distinguished, and inspiring career, she was present for the great moments we’ve all studied in school, as well as at the low points when it looked like desegregation of public schools, interstate transportation, and even the United States Armed Forces would never happen. Roundtree didn’t live to see the publication of this book (she died in 2018 at age 104), but this reader hopes that the book will give accord her her rightful place in history, and will become required reading for those who would understand the underpinnings of the quest for equal rights, and who would acknowledge how far we still have to go. This is on balance a truly wonderful book, even as it lays open thoughts about all that is left to do to make the vision a reality.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,245 reviews17 followers
March 22, 2020
An excellent memoir by Dovey Johnson Roundtree that gives history and insight into being an African American girl, then military woman, then lawyer in the Jim Crow South and in DC. A case she brought before the Supreme Court was integral to desegregating interstate bussing, but her view of watching the legal system dismantle injustice vs. watching society do it is deep and fascinating (particularly as someone who grew up in majority White culture and after that time, not someone who grew up in it and through it). My one caveat to the book is that because she is writing from her 90’s, there is a lot of inner reflection that creates tell rather than show. It makes sense, and makes for a very interior book that fits the life perspective she has and is writing from. But sometimes I would have liked more stories (and there are already many!) that illustrated the points for the areas when the book got dense and I really slowed. Even then, though, I never thought to put this book down. Excellent, and highly recommended.

(Note for myself: finished as a COVID-19 community-wide social distancing read)
Profile Image for Kenneth Barber.
548 reviews7 followers
March 28, 2020
This book tells the fascinating story of Dovey Johnson Roundtree. It is a memoir of a woman who made her mark in civil rights,women’s rights and the fight for justice. Born in North Carolina in the age of Jim Crow,she relates early experiences with segregation. With the guidance of her grandparents, particularly her grandmother, she learned to cope with prejudice and to aspire to change society for the better. Her struggle to attend Spellman College and to graduate were inspiring. She became part of the first group of black women to join the newly formed Women’s Army Corp in 1942 and the prejudice she faced in the military were informative and disturbing.
After the war she used the GI Bill to attend law school at Howard University. After graduation, she spent her career fighting to reverse Plessy v Ferguson and end Jim Crow. Her victories are less well known than many of the big civil rights cases, but no less important. Her life spent helping the less fortunate and minorities is inspiring. To learn about the second echelon of civil rights pioneers, although no less important or courageous, is well worth learning about.
Profile Image for Bayla.
997 reviews
December 11, 2019
Reprint of Justice Older Than the Law: The Life of Dovey Johnson Roundtree, so reposting that review:

Dovey Roundtree was an incredible person, lawyer, role-model, and inspiration, and this book does her story justice - no pun intended. Especially in the current era of #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #weneeddiversebooks and other diversity and women-focused initiatives, it's important to read about people like Dovey, who, when people told her "no", "you can't", or "let someone else handle it," listened politely and then did it anyway. Recommended for all ages from elementary school right on up, this is a great book to read aloud and excerpt from in a class, or to cuddle up with on a dreary winter weekend and read straight through.
Profile Image for Alex.
140 reviews10 followers
January 21, 2021
Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights is the amazing life story of an incredible woman that you may not know much about: civil rights lawyer Dovey Johnson Roundtree. Through her life story, I saw another side of the civil rights movement that I wasn’t too familiar with. The legal challenges to segregation and ensuing court battles were not as much on my radar as the protests and marches, and I loved learning more about the legal side of the movement. Beyond just the legal history, Dovey’s life is littered with concrete examples of how one voice can make a difference, and the power of local organizing. She was a truly inspiring woman, and while I normally read memoirs in small chunks, I could not put this one down. ✨

Follow me on Instagram & Twitter @whatalexreads for book reviews, recommendations, and more!
Profile Image for Dyana Lorraine.
2 reviews6 followers
December 23, 2019
Mighty Justice is an amazing story of a woman who triumphed throughout her entire life while speaking candidly about the struggles she faced. The writing sucks you in almost immediately, to the point that you truly feel you are sitting in Grandma Rachel's kitchen listening to stories of the past. Dovey Johnson Roundtree is a hero to many while many simply do not know her name. This book was just the inspiration and story I needed and is filled to the brim with life lessons. While memoirs are not my typical choice when searching for a book, this is truly an essential read for any age, race, or gender. I highly recommend this book as a must-read that deserves a spot on your list!
December 17, 2021
This book gives much color and insight to the struggle to gain civil rights for African Americans. Dovey Johnson to me, is certainly a hero of that period, even though she may not be well known my many people. Her depictions and detailed accounts seem to place you right on the scene of many of these historic events. This book is so well written and very easy to read. I was captivated reading about the legal challenges they had face down in the fight for equal rights African Americans and women as well.
Profile Image for C..
Author 9 books32 followers
March 5, 2022
Mighty Justice is a fascinating look into the life of a brilliant attorney, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, who fought to succeed, make a difference, break barriers, and leave a legacy. We hear of her struggles, difficult choices, amazing friendships and mentors, great triumphs, and rare setbacks. Indeed a remarkable life story with a beautiful ending. Mighty Justice is a moving account of life's precious moments and tough losses, and I highly recommend this book.
2 reviews
Want to read
August 13, 2019
What a rich account of a strong, educated, beautiful, persevering woman who shunned the negativity of her time and focused on all that which was positive in order to make necessary changes in the social-political climate of America. The compassion and truth in her writing draws you in and leaves you wanting for more when you've turned the last page. A brilliant book for all to read.
Profile Image for Barb.
35 reviews
October 13, 2019
Ms. Roundtree is someone I had never heard of, but I am SO glad that I found her story. As someone who grew up in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, she had a first hand view of everything, and as a lawyer in that era, she helped set the stage for the Civil Rights era. A very strong, intelligent woman, I think her story should be right up there with Dr King's.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 52 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.