There are several themes that emerge in this excellent book. The first has to do with how African-Americans led the struggle Masur describes, even as racially discriminatory laws made them vulnerable — whether to the whims of local officials exerting their discretion or to white mobs seeking legal cover for anti-Black violence. Another concerns how the language of race and class was, as Masur puts it, 'fungible': Even after the Civil War, legislation cracking down on 'vagrancy' and 'vagabondage' allowed state legislatures in the former Confederacy to practice discrimination under cover of laws that seemed 'race-neutral.' So much in this history was contingent; so much could turn on a single word. Toward the end of her book, Masur describes the debates over the Civil Rights Act of 1866, when senators haggled over who would be protected against racial discrimination, deciding to replace the inclusive word 'inhabitants' with the more restrictive 'citizens.' ... If this is a cleareyed book, it’s still a heartening one. Masur takes care to show not only the limitations of what was achieved at each step but also how even the smallest step could lead to another.
Prodigiously researching legislative and court records, pamphlets, petitions, and the press, [Masur] has shaped a remarkable and shattering book, a worthy successor to Ira Berlin’s 1974 Slaves Without Masters. Ms. Masur’s monumental account focuses not only on government-sanctioned pre-Civil War racism, but on the efforts by black activists and their white allies to compel America to make good on the 'created equal' pledge in the Declaration of Independence ... Much of the previous literature on the early struggles for racial equity has understandably focused on the movement to end slavery. In opening a window onto the suffering long endured by freedmen, Ms. Masur fills a vital gap in our understanding of this period. Combining meticulous scholarship with chilling storytelling, her book should mortify any reader who still doubts that America was in many ways built on a foundation of white supremacy and black oppression .. If most of what Ms. Masur discusses after 1858 feels anticlimactic, it is only because the story of postwar disillusionment is familiar, and the early saga breathtakingly fresh ... Speaking of fresh: do not look for Lincoln or Frederick Douglass to dominate this book. Instead, Ms. Masur introduces unsung heroes to vivify her saga. Agonizing as it is to read, it is no longer possible to ignore.
Masur’s scholarly but accessible history demonstrates how thoroughly racism pervaded both the North and the South during the 19th century ... Most importantly, Until Justice Be Done demonstrates that the fight for equality and justice is as old as the republic itself. With meticulous research, Masur lays out the history of Black Americans’ struggle to be recognized as citizens—a struggle that started before the ink on the Constitution was dry ... Masur’s book is both instructive and inspiring as it charts the path to freedom from the 1800s to today.