Professor Sharfstein’s new book, The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White, examines the history of race in the United States through three families who crossed the color line and assimilated into white communities. He will use the Fletcher Fellowship, which provides awards of $50,000 to fund research and support literary and artistic works that contribute to improving race relations and further the broad social goals of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, to chronicle a group of Southern lawyers who argued against integration in courts during the decade following Brown.
The fellowship was created in 2004 by Wall Street financier and philanthropist Alphonse Fletcher Jr. to mark the 50th anniversary of Brown, in which the Court ruled that separate public schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional. Professor Sharfstein is one of five recipients chosen to receive the prestigious fellowship for 2011-12 from more than 70 applicants. Previous fellows have included Stanley Crouch, Anna Deveare Smith, Anita Hill, Brent Staples, Elizabeth Alexander, and Hilton Als.
“This is a tremendous honor and opportunity,” Professor Sharfstein said. “The segregationist lawyers I am writing about are largely forgotten in the legal history of civil rights, but they developed a series of arguments that moderated the rhetoric of ‘massive resistance,’ abstracting and transforming it into seemingly neutral rights claims that have rooted themselves in post-Brown jurisprudence. I hope to add a new dimension to our understanding of Brown and the dynamics of litigating for social change.”