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Professor's new book highlights contributions of nearly forgotten civil rights pioneer

Raymond Pace Alexander was a pioneer in the civil rights struggle, fighting de facto segregation in housing, education, public accommodations and in the workplace in Philadelphia from 1923 to the 1960s. You've probably never heard of him. History Professor hopes his new biography, "Raymond Pace Alexander: A New Negro Lawyer Fights for Civil Rights in Philadelphia," will shed light on Alexander's significant - and largely unheralded - contributions to the movement.

Canton, director of the Connecticut College's Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity and an expert in 20th century American social history, urban history and the civil rights movement, also wants to give readers a better understanding of the importance of the civil rights struggle in the North, the subject of a seminar he teaches at Connecticut College. "Southern studies dominate civil rights scholarship, but over the last 15 years, there has been an increasing interest in the north," Canton said. "Most Americans view racism, segregation, and the civil rights struggle as southern phenomena, but racism, segregation, and the civil rights struggle are an American phenomena."

According to Canton, African Americans living in northern states in the 1920s and 1930s experienced de facto segregation and in some cities, including Philadelphia, white-owned businesses displayed Jim Crow signs. Yet unlike the southern movement, which was led by a prominent national figure, the northern civil rights struggle was a local affair led by a variety of individuals and organizations. These organizations and individuals had a significant impact at the local level, with lasting effects on the national movement. "Alexander was instrumental in increasing the number of black city workers, expanding black political power in Philadelphia and improving the status of black lawyers," Canton said. "His generation planted the seeds for the next generation of influential black leaders." To purchase "Raymond Pace Alexander," visit the Connecticut College Bookshop, or

September 29, 2010