Dean Risa Goluboff Wins Lillian Smith Book Award for "Vagrant Nation"

Risa Goluboff

Twice honored: Earlier this year "Vagrant Nation" was awarded the 2017 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History.

August 4, 2017

University of Virginia School of Law Dean Risa Goluboff has been named a recipient of the 2017 Lillian Smith Book Award for "Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change and the Making of the 1960s." 

Goluboff shares the honor with University of Georgia professor emerita Patricia Bell-Scott, who won for "The Firebrand and the First Lady."

Sponsored by the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries, and the George Center for the Book, the award will be presented to Goluboff on Sept. 3 as part of the AJC Decatur Book Festival in the auditorium of the Decatur, Georgia, Public Library. 

Published by Oxford University Press, "Vagrant Nation" explores how and why vagrancy laws that had been on the books for hundreds of years rapidly collapsed in the span of two decades. The book shows how legal change can fuel much broader social changes. Earlier this year "Vagrant Nation" was awarded the 2017 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Legal History.

Vagrancy laws were "used for hundreds of years to regulate, arrest, surveil [and] control all kinds of people who didn't fit in in different ways," Goluboff said. "In part, police turned to vagrancy laws when it was hard to arrest people for other things."

The story will always be relevant, she added.

"There's always going to be a tension between how much power the police have and how much liberty individuals have," she said.

A University of Georgia press release about the Smith award praises the book: "Goluboff's compelling account of those challenges rewrites the history of the civil rights, peace, gay rights, welfare rights, [and the] sexual and cultural revolutions. As Goluboff links the human stories of those arrested to the great controversies of the time, she makes coherent an era that often seems chaotic."

The Southern Regional Council established the Lillian Smith award shortly after Smith's death in 1966. Internationally acclaimed as author of the controversial novel "Strange Fruit" (1944), Smith was among the most outspoken of white, mid-20th century Southern writers on issues of social and racial injustice.

The Lillian Smith Book Awards honors those authors who, through their writing, carry on Smith's legacy. Past award winners include Harvard law professor (and former UVA Law professor) Tomiko Brown-Nagin, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Charles Frazier, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Gloria Naylor, Eudora Welty, Pat Conroy, Cormac McCarthy, Alex Haley, Paul M. Gaston and George B. Tindall.

Goluboff is the Arnold H. Leon Professor of Law and a professor of history at the University of Virginia. She is also the author of the 2007 book "The Lost Promise of Civil Rights," which received the Order of the Coif award for best book in the legal field and the James Willard Hurst Prize. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University, a J.D. from Yale Law School, and a B.A. in history and sociology from Harvard College.

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