“‘Beyond the Law’ and above the law”

This week in North Philly Notes, Charles Upchurch, author of “Beyond the Law,” writes about the first public debate in the Commons over the ethics of punishing sex between men.

The first sustained debate in the British Parliament (and likely in any parliament anywhere) over the ethics of punishing sex between men occurred 180 years ago and no one has remembered it—at least until now. That’s the premise of “Beyond the Law,” which explains how and why this happened. Most historians think this time frame is far too early for anything like this to have occurred, since it is too early for modern sexual identities to have formed, let alone for there to have been a political effort organized around them. But a modern homosexual identity is not needed to have an ethical objection to the execution of individuals for a private consensual act, which is what sodomy was in some cases. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, the law allowed for such executions. While many upper- and middle-class men did publicly rail against sodomy as “the worst of crimes” and supported the executions, others, drawing on enlightenment philosophy or more latitudinarian religious ideas, thought such executions were more immoral, perhaps far more immoral, than the acts themselves. These men included Lord John Russell, leader of the Whig majority in the House of Commons, who eventually argued against executions for sodomy in 1841, even as he kept the government at a distance from the private member’s bill that was the focus of the reform effort.

Russell, like almost every other politician of his era, did not want to publicly speak about sex between men, but broader events were forcing him and the government to do so. That was because the death penalty was being eliminated for hundreds of crimes. Up to the start of the nineteenth century, it was the terror of the gallows that was to scare individuals away from committing crime. Theft of even small amounts might be punished with death, since there had previously been only minimal systems for policing or imprisonment. But that policing and incarceration infrastructure was created in the early nineteenth century, and the number of capital crimes tumbled, so that by the end of the 1830s there were only slightly more than a dozen. Those capital crimes included murder, attempted murder, treason, piracy, rape, a few minor crimes that were missed by previous reform legislation, and sodomy, which could be a private consensual act. With the death penalty now gone for almost everything else, the anomaly of retaining it for sodomy was glaring for many. But almost no man wanted to be the person who stood up on the floor of the House of Commons to argue for the lessening of the penalties for sex between men, knowing that some of the most evangelical members of that body would likely denounce them for defending immorality (as did eventually happen).

The reform effort did happen, though, and two exceptional men stepped forward to shepherd the bill through the Commons in a process that played out over the better part of a year. They had the prestige of Jeremy Bentham behind them since, contrary to what has been written by other scholars, Bentham published some of his arguments against the punishment of sex between men in his lifetime. He did so in a way that would likely only be understood by legal experts, but those were exactly the people who were drafting the recommendations to parliament on which laws to amend, and which ones to retain without alterations. Bentham’s ideas of legal reform were shaping the entire process of eliminating the death penalty within the English criminal law, and his arguments against punishing sex between men in general, let alone executing men for a private consensual act, were known to the men shaping the reform.

Reasoned arguments were not enough to motivate a man to sponsor such a bill, to risk his reputation, and to speak publicly against such an injustice. It can be proven that both Jeremy Bentham and Lord John Russell agreed with this reform, but neither man would publicly champion it. A judge at the time privately told Russell that he was “convinced that the only reason why the punishment of death has been retained in this case is the difficulty of finding any one hardy enough to undertake what might be represented as the defense of such a crime.” And that brings us to the most remarkable discovery in ‘Beyond the Law’, because the two men who were brave enough to do this were inspired to act not primarily through reasoned arguments, but through the emotional and affective bonds of family. Fitzroy Kelly, a newly elected Tory MP, grew up in economic hardship, only saved from poverty through the work of his mother, the novelist Isabella Kelly. The Kelly family was helped repeatedly by the gothic novelist Matthew Gregory Lewis, whose sexual interest in men was remarked on at the time. Moreover, William Kelly, Isabella’s son and Fitzroy’s brother, has been identified by scholars at least since the 1930s as Matthew’s strongest emotional attachment. Matthew’s sister was also married to the brother of the other co-sponsor of the 1840 and 1841 legislation, the lawyer and abolitionist Steven Lushington. It was Lushington, also, more than a decade before, who had worked with Lady Byron during her separation from Lord Byron, and it was Lushington who had raised the threat of accusing Byron of committing sodomy within his marriage as leverage in the separation proceedings. This web of family connections, cemented by love more than sex, is dense, convoluted, and still in significant parts obscure and unrecoverable. Nevertheless, ‘Beyond the Law’ recounts much of it, and tells a story wholly different from anything previously recovered for the early nineteenth century. It pieces together many public and private aspects of the first debates in the nineteenth century over the ethics of punishing sex between men.

Is what happened to Linda Evangelista an anomaly?

This week in North Philly Notes, Samantha Kwan and Jennifer Graves, coauthors of Under the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery, Boundary Work, and the Pursuit of the Natural Fake, write about the potential perils of cosmetic surgery.

Linda Evangelistaan iconic 1990s supermodeldropped a bombshell on Instagram on September 22, 2021: “I was brutally disfigured by Zeltiq’s CoolSculpting procedure.” The procedure is an FDA-cleared “noninvasive body contouring technology” that “freezes and kills fat cells.” It promises to “reduce stubborn fat by up to 20-25% in the treatment areas, all with little to no downtime and no surgery.”

However, Evangelista reported to her million plus followers that the procedure “increased, not decreased, [her] fat cells,” leaving her ”permanently deformed” even after two corrective surgeries. She went on to explain that these complications have “not only destroyed [her] livelihood, it has sent [her] into a cycle of deep depression, profound sadness, and the lowest depths of self-loathing.”

Responses to her Instagram post from other celebrities have largely focused on her “bravery” and “courage” for sharing her story publicly. News coverage of her revelation has highlighted the $50 million lawsuit she filed against Zeltiq.

This focus, however, misses an important opportunity to point out that for millions of people who undergo cosmetic procedures each yearof which the overwhelming majority (92%) are womenthe experience of undergoing and living with the results of cosmetic surgery isn’t always a cake walk. In fact, our research with women who have gone under the knife for cosmetic reasons reveals that surgery can involve lifelong physical and emotional challenges. Even when women frame surgery as a success, many still struggle with their postoperative bodies.

For example, women in our study who had breast augmentationthe fifth most common cosmetic surgical procedure in the U.S. according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeonsreported a number of ongoing problems, many of which only revealed themselves with time. These included implants hardening, rupturing, sagging, and wrinkling. This is consistent with an FDA report on silicone-gel filled implants stating that complications and adverse outcomes increase over time and that women who have breast implants will need to monitor their breasts for the rest of their lives. Some also reported chronic back or shoulder pain, with some sharing that ongoing pain or discomfort even deterred them from performing activities they once enjoyed such as running.

Others revealed a permanent loss of sensation or feelings of numbness, tingling, and itching at the surgical site months or even years after surgery. Stubborn surgical scars, which many anticipated but some underestimated, were another source of consternation.

Fluctuations in weight also sometimes led to the dissipation of satisfaction. There were accounts of breasts that appeared disproportionately large after weight loss, as well as accounts of breasts being larger than what was desired after weight gain.

These disappointments with both the look and feel of one’s body ultimately mean that women have to manage their postoperative bodies. Management comes in many forms including revision surgery, the use of makeup and clothing to hide scars and body parts now deemed undesirable, and emotional work to address body anxiety or even feelings of regret. In her Instagram post, Evangelista openly admits to having undergone two revision surgeries and highlights the emotional toll and ensuing emotional work she has done to recover. Moreover, fans and the media alike have noted that she has been covering her face and neck in photos in recent years, clearly an effort on her part to hide the “deformity” caused by her procedure.

Evangelista’s very public experience with CoolSculpting and the emotional fallout she has experienced may seem like an anomaly. Yet her experiences mirror the experiences of thousands, if not millions, of women in America who in the wake of cosmetic procedures must use a variety of physical and emotional management strategies on an ongoing basis. While popular media coverage tends to showcase procedures, like Evangelista’s, that go dramatically wrong (think Botched) or to celebrate supposedly over-the-top success cases (think The Swan),for many women, post-surgical life is neither. Instead, regardless of the results, it is a lifelong process of body negotiation and management.

Evangelista’s experience also gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves what it is that drives women from all walks of life to undergo drastic procedures that frequently require long term management? Why do they do it despite stories like Evangelista’s that are splashed across the frontpage?

Simply put, beauty remains a central feature of femininity, and a beauty imperative rewards women who comply. Women who meetor at least attempt to meetoverwhelmingly unrealistic beauty standards are rewarded with psychological, social, and economic gains, while those who do not miss out or are penalized. It is long past time that we begin to sincerely question the cultural and social structures that put pressure on women to undergo potentially dangerous, and sometimes unsuccessful, procedures in the first place. Only when beauty is dethroned as a defining quality of successful womanhood will we have fewer experiences like Evangelista’s.

University Press Week Blog Tour: Forward Thinking

University Press Week is November 8-12. The UP Blog Tour will feature entries all week long that celebrate this year’s theme, “Keep UP.” This year marks the 10th anniversary of UP Week, and the university press community will celebrate how university presses have evolved over the past decade.


We honor today’s theme of Forward Thinking by showcasing what other university Presses are doing.

University of Cincinnati Press Aligning with the university and the digital transformation.

Northwestern University Press The editorial vision of NUP’s new acquisitions editors.

University of Nebraska Press New series celebrating LGBTQ+ writers called Zero Street Fiction.

Yale University Press An introduction to the A&AePortal, an innovative, subscription-based platform that features important works of scholarship in the history of art, architecture, decorative arts, photography, and design.

Wilfrid Laurier University Press A post from Senior Editor Siobhan McMenemy about future projects.

University of North Carolina Press A new book series is the focus.

University of Notre Dame Press To #KeepUP up with the highest standards of scholarship, an academic press must be committed both to the power of ideas and to forming the next generation of publishers. Christopher C. Rios-Sueverkruebbe, University of Notre Dame Press’s 5+1 postdoctoral fellow, represents its commitment to both. He looks forward to carrying on the Press’s forward-looking dedication to excellence as he pursues an impactful career in academic publishing.

University Press Week Blog Tour: Listicle

University Press Week is November 8-12. The UP Blog Tour will feature entries all week long that celebrate this year’s theme, “Keep UP.” This year marks the 10th anniversary of UP Week, and the university press community will celebrate how university presses have evolved over the past decade.  

Honoring today’s theme of Listicle, we provide a list of some of Temple University Press’ most influential books

Tasting Freedom
This gripping biography of the extraordinary Octavius Catto and the first civil rights movement in America wasn’t just a critical and commercial darling, it helped get a the first statue on Philadelphia public property to recognize a specific African American. 

Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts This Press bestseller, a veritable tour de force, asks: How do historians know what they know?  Now we know!

The Afrocentric Idea A groundbreaking book by the Dean of African American Studies at Temple University. Don’t just take our word for it, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. called it, “a major book.” 

The Man-Not Introducing the conceptual foundations for Black Male Studies series, this award-winning book has become a cornerstone of the Press’ list.

Envisioning Emancipation/The Black Female Body Two volumes that celebrate images of Black Americans, (both coedited by Deborah Willis) these elegant photographic histories speak volumes about Black life and culture throughout history.

The Possessive Investment in Whiteness A landmark book that has been widely influential in revealing racial privilege at work in the 21st century.

The Gender Knot/The Forest and the Trees Classroom favorites for decades, these books respectively address sociology as a way of thinking and how gender inequality can be dismantled.

Orientals This key title in the Press’ Asian American History and Culture series won multiple awards for its contributions to race and popular culture.

Unsettled A fascinating account about Cambodian refugees in New York City’s hyperghetto. Widely reviewed and adopted, this is a title that shows just how impactful a first book from a University Press title can be.

Cheap Amusements We are amused that this book, about working women and leisure in turn-of-the-century New York, published back in 1987, has been one of the all-time top-selling Press books. 

Eagles Encyclopedias/Finished Business These books are beloved by Philadelphians in particular, and sports fans in general, and by Temple University Press always and forever.  

The Disability Rights Movement An encyclopedic history of the struggle for disability rights in the United States, as told by two sisters, is a cornerstone of our list. 

Philadelphia Murals books A collaboration with one of Philadelphia’s greatest institutions, the Mural Arts Project, has yielded three inspiring volumes that speak not only to the importance of public art programs, but to themes of social justice and communal healing.

Engineering Culture A classic text on the sociology of management and organization.

Acres of Diamonds Temple University founder Russell H. Conwell’s influential speech about finding riches in one’s own backyard.

University Press Week Blog Tour: Innovate/Collaborate

University Press Week is November 8-12. The UP Blog Tour will feature entries all week long that celebrate this year’s theme, “Keep UP.” This year marks the 10th anniversary of UP Week, and the university press community will celebrate how university presses have evolved over the past decade.  

Honoring today’s theme, Innovate/Collaborate, we post about Temple University Press’ imprint, North Broad Press, a University Press, Libraries, and Faculty Collaboration for Open Textbooks.

For well over a decade, Temple University Press has been reporting to Temple University Libraries, and in 2018 we partnered to launch the collaborative imprint North Broad Press. 

North Broad Press (NBP) publishes open-access works of scholarship, both new and reissued, from the Temple University community. Our current focus is on open textbooks. NBP supports Temple faculty in the creation of a textbook specifically tailored to their course that is free for all students. NBP titles decrease the cost of higher education and improve learning outcomes for students. All books are peer reviewed and professionally produced with print-on-demand copies available at cost.

An important part of the Press’s mission is to educate, and with NBP we are shaping the approach to teaching and learning at Temple through the creation of custom textbooks. Authors write, organize, and present content in a way that aligns with teaching methods they know to be successful. In addition, we hope NBP titles will be used in courses beyond Temple, and peer reviewers are asked to consider this as they assess the projects.

NBP is part of the Libraries’ Center for Scholarly Communication and Open Publishing.  Its creation supports the Libraries and Press in achieving and advancing a strategic action named in the current strategic plan: “Explore new opportunities in publishing and scholarly communication: The Libraries will engage in deep collaboration with Temple University Press, with Temple faculty, and with other organizations and academic institutions to identify and adopt new approaches for sharing scholarly products, for exploring sustainable economic models for university publishing, and for connecting local publishing initiatives with Temple’s faculty.”

NBP’s work is based on the following core principles:

  • We believe that the Libraries and the Press are critical resources for publishing expertise on campus.
  • We believe that the unfettered flow of ideas, scholarship and knowledge is necessary to support learning, clinical practice, and research, and to stimulate creativity and the intellectual enterprise.
  • We support Temple faculty, students, and staff by making their work available to audiences around the world via open access publishing.
  • We believe that the scholarly ecosystem works best when creators retain their copyrights.
  • We believe in experimentation and innovation in academic publishing.
  • We work to decrease the cost of higher education and improve learning outcomes for students by publishing high quality open textbooks and other open educational resources.
  • We believe in the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and promote these values through our publications.
  • We commit to making our publications accessible to all who need to use them.
  • We believe place matters. Our publications reflect Temple University and the North Philadelphia community of which we are a part.

NBP has filled a previously unaddressed need. We issued annual calls for proposals in 2019, 2020, and 2021 and the response from Temple faculty has been enthusiastic. We received 58 proposals over the three calls; 20 were selected for publication, an acceptance rate of 35%. Of these, three titles have been published and 17 are in process.

Temple faculty are committed to  improving student success by authoring  textbooks that are better suited for their courses than what’s currently available. They understand the financial challenges posed by expensive commercial textbooks and they have jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the Press and Libraries.

University Press Week Blog Tour: Surprise!

University Press Week is November 8-12. The UP Blog Tour will feature entries all week long that celebrate this year’s theme, “Keep UP.” This year marks the 10th anniversary of UP Week, and the university press community will celebrate how university presses have evolved over the past decade.


Today’s theme is Surprise! We celebrate with a rundown of what others in the University Press community are doing.

Texas A&M University Press One big surprise of the past 10 years is the major inroad made by TAMU Press (and UPs in general, especially smaller UPs) into the general trade market, with our trade books taking their place alongside commercial publishers in terms of popularity.

University of South Carolina Press Guest blog from author Mary Martha Greene, author of The Cheese Biscuit Queen Tells Allan astounding (and wonderfully surprising) success.

University of Virginia Press Guest blog from Grace Mitchell Tada, coeditor with Walter Hood of Black Landscapes Matter, which went into its third printing recently.

MIT Press A guest post from a Press editor on our new diverse voices fund.

University Press Week Blog Tour: Manifesto

University Press Week is November 8-12. The UP Blog Tour will feature entries all week long that celebrate this year’s theme, “Keep UP.” This year marks the 10th anniversary of UP Week, and the university press community will celebrate how university presses have evolved over the past decade. 


Honoring today’s theme of Manifesto, we provide a brief history of Temple University Press and how it is has evolved over more than 50 years.

On the occasion of the founding of Temple University Press in 1969, Director Maurice English composed the following lines:

At a time when universities are under assault
from the outside and from within
from the forces of repression and from those of confrontation,

The creation of a new university press is an event.
It is a notable event when the new press bears the name
of Temple University
and is therefore meeting a double challenge—

To fulfill its original commitment to urban education,
and simultaneously to foster
that passion of inquiry
which is the essence of scholarship.

For that passion, in the end, determines what men truly know
and therefore how they will act,
if they act well.

Over the subsequent decades, Temple University Press has continued to complement the University’s commitment to urban education English described by publishing more than 2000 titles for scholarly and regional audiences.

In April 1969, nearly 18 months after its approval by the Board of Trustees, the Press was formally established, with Maurice English as its Director. English came to Temple from the University of Chicago Press, where he had been senior editor.

University President Paul Anderson, in consultation with the faculty and the deans, appointed the first Board of Review, responsible for evaluating manuscripts for proposed publication by the Press and upholding a high standard of scholarship.

Temple’s earliest books were tied to the activities of faculty members. The first title put out by the new Press was Marxism and Radical Religion: Essays Toward a Revolutionary Humanism (1970), edited by John C. Raines and Thomas Dean, assistant professors in the Religion Department, who revised the papers presented at a symposium held at Temple on the same subject. Raines continued his relationship with the Press for a number of years, serving as a member of the Board of Review.

Other titles from the first year included Charles Darwin: The Years of Controversy; The Origin of Species and its Critics, 1859-1882 (1970) by Peter J. Vorzimmer, a professor in the Department of History; and Gandhi, India and the World: An International Symposium (1970), edited with an introduction by Sibnarayan Ray, based on another symposium held at Temple.

The productivity of the Press and the quality of its publications did not go unnoticed by its peers; Temple’s rising status was acknowledged when it was elected to full membership in the Association of American University Presses, now the Association of University Presses, in 1972, its first year of eligibility.

David M. Bartlett succeeded English as Director in 1976.  During his tenure, the Press expanded its list and settled into the publishing areas that have come to define its identity.

In keeping with Temple’s mission as a center for urban education, the Press also focused its acquisitions on urban studies and other allied fields, although it did not limit its editorial program to the social sciences. The Press also published in world literature and communications and continued to complement the University’s role as a Philadelphia institution by building a strong list of regional titles.

During the tenures of Directors Lois Patton (1999-2002) and Alex Holzman (2003-2014), the Press’s reporting line shifted from the Provost to the University Library, with the goal of developing joint projects and raising the profile of the Press on campus and in the region.

The Press continues to enjoy this relationship with the Library under Director Mary Rose Muccie, who was hired in 2014. Muccie’s knowledge of electronic and open access publishing helped launch North Broad Press, a joint publishing imprint between the Press and Library. Publishing open textbooks from members of the University community, North Broad Press published its first title, Structural Analysis by Felix Udoeyo, in 2019, and has since published two additional titles.

Muccie was at the helm as the Press returned to publishing journals. The first, Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, edited by Press author George Lipsitz, launched in 2014 and publishes biannually on behalf of the University of California Santa Barbara’s Center for Black Studies Research. The open-access journal Commonwealth: A Journal of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy, published in partnership with the Pennsylvania Political Science Association, soon followed.

Current Editor-in-Chief Aaron Javsicas continues to broaden the scope of the Press’s list of regional titles, and has launched several new series, including The Political Lessons from American Cities, edited by Richardson Dilworth, which publishes short books on major American cities and the  lessons each offers to the study of American politics. Editor Ryan Mulligan has introduced Studies in Transgressions, which publishes books at the crossroad of sociology and critical criminology, and Shaun Vigil, the latest editorial hire, has expanded the Press lists in ethnic and disability studies.

Temple’s current list reflects the traditional commitments of the University, the changing terrain of contemporary scholarship, and the shifting realities of the publishing industry. As a child of the 1960s, Temple was quick to recognize the scholarly value and social importance of women’s studies, ethnic studies, and the study of race. The Press has published several notable titles by many of the key figures in these disciplines. Temple’s chair of the Africology and African American Studies department Molefi Asante authored the groundbreaking book The Afrocentric Idea (1987), which was heralded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Temple was also one of the first presses to become active in the field when it published Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and their Social Context (1982) by Elaine Kim. Under the supervision of then Editor-in-Chief Janet Francendese, Temple launched the groundbreaking book series Asian American History and Culture.

The Press enjoyed tremendous success with the publication of the first edition of The Eagles Encyclopedia (2005), by Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons. The book was an instant best seller and generated two subsequent editions, The New Eagles Encyclopedia (2014) and The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition (2018).

In addition, Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell (2002), More Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell (2006), and Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30 (2014) established the Press’s relationship with Mural Arts Philadelphia.  The relationship continued with the publication of Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia (2019).

Other Press best sellers include Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith’s autobiography, Silent Gesture (2008); Envisioning Emancipation (2013) which won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work—Non-Fiction and was a Top 25 Choice Outstanding Academic Title; Frankie Manning, a memoir by the famed Lindy hopper (2007); and The Audacity of Hoop (2015), tracking the role of basketball in the life and presidency of Barack Obama.

Temple earned the support of city government, Philadelphia public schools, and area corporations in producing P Is for Philadelphia (2005), a richly illustrated book featuring student art about various aspects of life in the Philadelphia region, from A to Z. The project promoted literacy and civic pride and raised public awareness of the Press and the University as integral parts of the community.

Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America (2010), chronicling the first American civil rights movement, is one of many Press titles on both African American history and social justice. The book, by Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin, was reissued as a paperback in 2017, in conjunction with the unveiling of a new statue commemorating Catto, the first statue on Philadelphia public property to recognize a specific African American.

The Man-Not (2017), by Tommy Curry, which introduced the conceptual foundations for Black Male Studies, was a crossover success, winning the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award and inaugurating Curry’s Black Male Studies series.

In 2019, the Press showcased its relationship with the University with Color Me…Cherry & White: A Temple University Press Coloring Book. The 60-page coloring book features more than twenty iconic Temple University landmarks and is a keepsake for the Temple community worldwide.

More than fifty years from its founding, Temple University Press continues to thrive, pursuing its mission as a prominent voice for socially engaged scholarship and a leading publisher of books that matter to readers in Philadelphia and beyond.

Cooperation, not coworking

This week in North Philly Notes, Shamira Gelbman, author of The Civil Rights Lobby, writes about the history of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions about how we work together: Can we still achieve creative synergy when sharing physical workspaces is impossible? How should we adjust workplace practices to accommodate modern family schedules? Do we even need meetings anymore when we have email, instant messaging, and virtual pin boards to facilitate asynchronous collaboration? Though rooted in an earlier era without twenty-first-century technological affordances and focused on inter-organizational cooperation rather than coworking relationships among individuals, The Civil Rights Lobby highlights the importance of finding effective solutions to these questions.  

The Civil Rights Lobby tells the story of the founding and early history of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which has coordinated lobbying for federal civil rights legislation since the early 1950s. The Leadership Conference today has over 200 member organizations and works on a broad array of civil rights concerns. Though it was less expansive in both respects when it was founded some 70 years ago, the Leadership Conference’s contributions to the historic laws of that era attest to the significance of its sustained efforts to coordinate minority, labor, religious, civic, fraternal, and professional groups’ civil rights advocacy.     

Previous research has shown that large coalitions of advocacy groups representing diverse interests can be a powerful tool for those seeking to secure rights and protections for marginalized groups in a political system that is stacked against them. By signaling broad support and bringing many different organizations’ lobbying resources to bear on joint efforts to shape policy outcomes, diverse coalitions can sway cautious legislators and enhance their commitment to shepherd controversial reforms through the rigors of the legislative process.    

But large, diverse interest group coalitions also embody a fundamental challenge: For all their potential to make a strong case for reform, their member organizations’ disparate priorities, resource endowments, and approaches to advocacy can make it very difficult to identify shared goals, keep groups on message, and encourage them to devote scarce resources to coalition work.  

The early history of Leadership Conference suggests that the key to surmounting this challenge lies in how diverse interest group coalitions operate—that is, in the organizational structures and procedures they use to find common ground and encourage their member organizations to mobilize grassroots and professional lobbying resources in unison to advance coalition goals.

Throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s, the Leadership Conference operated as what one participant called “a permanent ad hoc body.” It was a largely informal alliance of some 50 organizations that had come together to secure strong civil rights commitments from Democrats and Republicans in the 1952 election. That they persisted as a coalition in the ensuing decade is more a testament to inertia than to legislative momentum or able coalition management. For most organizations, no action beyond co-sponsorship of the 1952 activities was needed to remain in good standing as coalition members, nor was there coalitional infrastructure to encourage their input or participation.

This changed soon after President John F. Kennedy delivered his proposal for the legislation that would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Congress in June 1963. To capitalize on this opportunity, Leadership Conference leaders opened an office in Washington, DC and hired the coalition’s first paid staff to run it. The Washington office became the site for weekly meetings where lobbyists from all member groups were invited to discuss legislative strategy, divide up professional lobbying tasks, and consider how their home organizations might mobilize grassroots support for their direct lobbying efforts. It also produced a newsletter – the MEMO – that circulated widely to organizations’ state and local chapters and other Civil Rights Act proponents. Through the MEMO, the Leadership Conference broadcast the decisions of Washington-based strategists to Civil Rights Act supporters nationwide, mobilizing them for concerted action to pressure legislators to strengthen the bill’s provisions in line with Leadership Conference goals and resist Southern representatives and senators’ obstruction to secure its passage.       

The specific solutions Leadership Conference officials found to maximize their coalition’s capacity for coordination in the 1960s may or may not be well-suited to collaboration challenges in 2021. At the very least, technological advances have both opened new prospects and curbed people’s responsiveness to traditional modes of communication. Nevertheless, the Leadership Conference’s historical experience shows how consequential effective solutions to perennial coordination challenges can be.  

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