Redding Lecture highlights mass incarceration of African Americans
Michelle Alexander delivers the 2011 Louis L. Redding Lecture.

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3:29 p.m., March 9, 2011----In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, author Michelle Alexander argues that the American criminal justice system has replaced the old Jim Crow system of repression against African Americans and has denied basic civic and human rights to an entire generation.

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Alexander, associate professor of law at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law, discussed her views and her 2010 book published by New Press, New York, at the Louis L. Redding Lecture on Tuesday, March 8, in Gore Recital Hall in the Roselle Center for the Arts.

Sponsored by the University of Delaware Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Center for Black Culture and the departments of English and History, the annual lecture recognizes the civil rights efforts of Louis L. Redding, the first African American attorney admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1929.

In addressing the audience of about 200, which included UD students, faculty and staff, Alexander dedicated her talk to the memory of civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“There was one principle that Dr. King steadfastly held to, and that was his commitment to nonviolence and telling the truth, the whole truth about matters of race,” Alexander said. “He put it quite bluntly, just months before his death: 'I do not see how we will ever solve the turbulent problem of race confronting our nation until there is an honest confrontation with it, and a willing search for the truth and a willingness to admit the truth when we discover it.'”

Alexander said that the most Americans are in a “color blind slumber” of denial when it comes to confronting the truth about race.

“It is a truth that most Americans will deny, just as most deny the truth about slavery, and Jim Crow,” Alexander said. “The truth is that we, as a nation, have taken a wrong turn, a tragic detour in our stride toward freedom. We have betrayed Dr. King's dream.”

The most visible evidence of this betrayal, Alexander noted, is that more African Americans are under correctional control today -- in prison, jail or on probation or control -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

“We use our criminal justice system to label people of color criminals, and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind,” Alexander said. “Today, it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans.”

Alexander noted that the disintegration of the African American family is due mostly to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

Most of this mass incarceration, Alexander noted, is the result of a war on drugs, which has accounted for an increase of about two-thirds in the state prison population.

For change to occur, there must be an end to mass incarcerations, racial profiling and federal funding to law enforcement agencies based on the sheer number of drug arrests, Alexander said.

“We have to take the profit out of prison, and we have to begin working with people of all colors to build an interracial, interethnic movement to end mass incarcerations,” Alexander said. “This war on drugs was born with black folks in mind, but it has destroyed the lives of families and people of all colors.”

Alexander said that America must awake from its colorblind slumber if it is ever to end a caste system that relies on mass incarceration of African Americans to achieve its goals.

“The refusal and failure to recognize and honor the dignity and humanity of all people has been the foundation of every caste system that has ever existed in the United States or anywhere else in the world,” Alexander said. “It is our task, I firmly believe, to end not just mass incarceration, but also to end this history and cycle of caste in America.”

Alexander received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her talk. A reception was held after the event.

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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