Monday, August 10, 2015

The Southern Regional Council Announces the Lillian Smith Book Award Recipients for 2015

Atlanta - Two exceptional books will be recognized with this year's Lillian Smith Book Awards. These awards were established by the Southern Regional Council (SRC) to recognize authors whose books represent outstanding achievements demonstrating through high literary merit and moral vision an honest representation of the South, its people, its problems, and its promise.

This year's Awards Ceremony is a partnership between the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries, and the Georgia Center for the Book. It will be presented in connection with the Decatur Book Festival at the DeKalb County Public Library in Decatur, Georgia on Sunday, September 6, 2015 at 2:30 p.m.

The 2015 Award Recipients are:

Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South 

By Andrew Maraniss

The New York Times bestselling book Strong Inside is the untold story of Perry Wallace, who in 1966 enrolled at Vanderbilt University and became the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference. Strong Inside is not just the story of a trailblazing athlete, but of civil rights, race in America, a campus in transition during the tumultuous 1960s, the mental toll of pioneering, decades of ostracism, and eventual reconciliation and healing.

This fast-paced, richly detailed and meticulously researched biography digs deep beneath the surface to reveal a more complicated, illuminating and rewarding story of sports pioneering than we’ve come to expect from the genre. First-time author Andrew Maraniss masterfully unfolds the unique life story of Wallace, the rare slam-dunking basketball star who was also a valedictorian, engineering double-major, law school graduate, and university professor. Wallace’s unusually insightful and honest introspection reveals his inner thoughts throughout his journey.

Wallace entered kindergarten the year that Brown v. Board of Education upended “separate but equal.” As a 12-year old, he snuck downtown to watch the sit-ins at Nashville’s lunch counters. In 1963, he entered high school a week after Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. While in high school, he saw the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, and his Pearl High basketball team won Tennessee’s first integrated state tournament. The world seemed to be opening at just the right time, and when Vanderbilt recruited him, Wallace courageously accepted the assignment to desegregate the SEC. His experiences on campus and in the hostile gymnasiums of the Deep South turned out to be nothing like he ever imagined.

On campus, he encountered the leading civil rights figures of the day, including Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Robert Kennedy – and he led Vanderbilt’s small group of black students to a meeting with the university chancellor to push for better treatment.

On the basketball court, he experienced an Ole Miss boycott and the rabid hate of the Mississippi State fans in Starkville. Following his freshman year, the NCAA instituted “the Lew Alcindor rule,” which deprived Wallace of his signature move, the slam dunk.

Despite this attempt to limit the influence of a rising tide of black stars, the final basket of Wallace’s college career was a cathartic and defiant dunk, and the story Wallace told to the Vanderbilt Human Relations Committee and later The Tennessean was not the simple story of a triumphant trailblazer that many people wanted to hear.  Yes, he had gone from hearing racial epithets when he appeared in his dormitory to being voted as the university’s most popular student, but, at the risk of being labeled “ungrateful,” he spoke truth to power in describing the daily slights and abuses he had overcome and what Martin Luther King had called “the agonizing loneliness of a pioneer.”

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Southwest Georgia Freedom Struggle, 1814 - 2014

By Lee Formwalt

Looking Back, Moving ForwardWhen he started writing a history of the Southwest Georgia Freedom civil rights struggle late in 2013, historian Lee Formwalt was finally working on a project he had begun in essence four years earlier when he was the Albany Civil Rights Institute’s executive director.

While it seemed logical that Formwalt would be the one to write the book, he found that it was impossible because of his workload at the ACRI. It was only after he left the Institute in 2011 to return to Bloomington, Ind., that fate stepped in.

“After I left Albany I didn’t hear anything for awhile until (ACRI Executive Director Frank Wilson) called and asked, ‘how’s the book coming along?’” Formwalt said. “I realized that all the major research had been done and I had the majority of what I needed to actually get started. We signed a contract in November and I wrote the book in four months.”

The result was “Looking Back, Moving Forward - The Southwest Georgia Freedom Struggle, 1814-2014,” a slick 100-page, 40,000 word history of the region’s struggle for equal rights. There was a 5,000 copy first printing and all proceeds from the book benefit the ACRI.

SRC is an inter-racial organization founded in 1919 to combat racial injustice in the South. SRC initiated the Lillian Smith Book Awards shortly after Smith's death in 1966 to recognize authors whose writing extends the legacy of the outspoken writer, educator and social critic who challenged her fellow Southerners and all Americans on issues of social and racial justice. Since 2004 the awards have been presented by SRC in a partnership with the University of Georgia Libraries, whose Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library houses a historic collection of Lillian Smith's letters and manuscripts. The Georgia Center for the Book became a partner in 2007, when the awards ceremony first became part of the Decatur Book Festival. Piedmont College, which operates the Lillian Smith Center, joined as a sponsor this year.

The 2014 winners of the Lillian Smith Book Awards were We Shall Not be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth Sit-In and the Movement it Inspired by M. J. O'Brien, and In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma by Bernard Lafayette, Jr. and Kathryn Lee Johnson

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Latest Print Edition of Southern Changes is Now Available!

Summer, 2015. In this issue:

The Voting Rights Act at 50: A Retrospective
The Roberts Court's Assault on Civil Rights
Lillian Smith Book Award Nominees for 2015

To order your copy, click here or send a request to

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"This Bright Light of Ours" is Nominated for 2015 Lillian Smith Book Award

This Bright Light of Ours
Stories from the Voting Rights Fight

by Maria Gitin

This Bright Light of Ours offers a tightly focused insider’s view of the community-based activism that was the heart of the civil rights movement. A celebration of grassroots heroes, this book details through first-person accounts the contributions of ordinary people who formed  the nonviolent army that won the fight for voting rights.

Combining memoir and oral history, Maria Gitin fills a vital gap in civil rights history by focusing on the neglected Freedom Summer of 1965 when hundreds of college students joined forces with local black leaders to register thousands of new black voters in the rural South. Gitin was an idealistic nineteen-year-old college freshman from a small farming community north of San Francisco who felt called to action when she saw televised images of brutal attacks on peaceful demonstrators during Bloody Sunday, in Selma, Alabama.

Atypical among white civil rights volunteers, Gitin came from a rural low-income family. She raised funds to attend an intensive orientation in Atlanta featuring now-legendary civil rights leaders. Her detailed letters include the first narrative account of this orientation and the only in-depth field report from a teenage Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) project participant.

Gitin details the dangerous life of civil rights activists in Wilcox County, Alabama, where she was assigned. She tells of threats and arrests, but also of forming deep friendships and of falling in love. More than four decades later, Gitin returned to Wilcox County to revisit the people and places that she could never forget and to discover their views of the “outside agitators” who had come to their community. Through conversational interviews with more than fifty Wilcox County residents and former civil rights workers, she has created a channel for the voices of these unheralded heroes who formed the backbone of the civil rights movement.
Maria Gitin was a national fundraising and diversity trainer for twenty-eight years. She has served as Executive Director of a YWCA, founded a shelter for survivors of domestic violence, and continues to register voters in communities of color. Currently, Gitin is a frequent presenter on cultural competency and voting rights. She lives in Northern California with her photographer husband, Samuel Torres Jr.
"This book offers an honest expression of the ongoing cost paid by black and white civil rights volunteers alike. Gitin’s description of the depression, rejection, medical issues, and PTSD suffered by her and other SCOPE volunteers (many of whom were white) is only matched by the economic intimidation, loss of jobs, loss of liberty, and death suffered by the black residents of Wilcox County who stayed to continue the fight. This is an important piece of the civil rights story that has not been told." —Southern Register
“In addition to its important historiographical interventions, this book has many strengths. It provides a day-to-day look at a grassroots, local movement, an extremely rare perspective that is nearly impossible to accomplish without the kind of personal sources (letters home) and recollections that Gitin is able to draw on. It reveals SCLC’s operational culture. It explicates the role of outside organizers and the symbiotic relationship they had with local activists and movement supporters. This Bright Light of Ours shows how gender, race, class, and birthplace shaped people’s actions and activism. It makes painfully clear the daunting task that organizers faced because of racial terror and the paralyzing fear that it created. Gitin demonstrates the depth and breadth of white supremacy, which informed white opposition to the movement. And she shows how transformative movement participation was, and how difficult ‘reentering’ society was for activists after they left the southern struggle.”—Hasan Kwame Jeffries, author ofBloody Lowndes:Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt

"The wide and diverse array of voices leaps from the pages [of This Bright Light of Ours] with stunning force. They are authentic voices, and the stories they share are dramatic, gripping, poignant, uplifting and empowering. "—Lewis V Baldwin, King Scholar and author In a Single Garment of Destiny, professor Vanderbilt University

"Maria Gitin's book is a unique blend of her own story and those of the local community with whom she worked in Wilcox County in the exceptionally challenging struggle of the 1960s civil rights movement. Very, very few books offer this kind of retrospective and prospective. Gitin's love for the people of Wilcox County shines through. The work reinforces an understanding of the courage of those times, the penalties exacted in real human lives and ways, the strength of the Black community, their openness and caring, and a brilliant documentation of how completely segregated the South - at least this corner of the South - remains. These are powerful stories profoundly relevant for our own times." —Bettina Aptheker, Professor, Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

"This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight is a first-hand, from-the-front-lines report of the '60s Southern voting rights movement in one of the most resistant counties in one of the most resistant states. This is a must-read account of a less publicized aspect of the Southern civil rights movement -- white volunteers risking life and limb to challenge white supremacy at its most brutal." —Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus, NAACP

“Maria Gitin tells her own story on her own terms, giving readers an honest rendering of one woman’s experience on the front lines of struggle against a deeply entrenched system of racial oppression.  Her book is a worthy companion piece to Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippiand Ned Cobb’s superb Alabama narrative All God’s Dangers.”
—Clarence Mohr, author of On the Threshold of Freedom: Masters and Slaves in Civil War Georgia

This Bright Light of Ours is everything a book about civil rights should be. Gitin’s memoir is more honest than most, as she details the many sacrifices that had to be made to navigate hostile family issues. In having read a number of books about the civil rights movement, Gitin is the first to addresses and detail SCOPE—and for that she has made an important contribution to the field.” —John A. Obee, civil rights veteran, Simpson County Civic League, Mississippi, 1967
"This is an important work about a neglected period of the Civil Rights Movement, the 1965 Voting Rights Movement. Gitin clearly communicates her commitment to civil rights and social justice by presenting us with the fresh voices of unheralded community leaders in Wilcox County, AL. It adds wonderful new insight and texture to the story of how courageous Americans transformed their community and the country." —Robert Michael Franklin, Ph.D., President-Emeritus of Morehouse College
"As someone who spent time in Wilcox County working on anti-poverty work, I can say with authority, this book rings absolutely true. It is important and must be published."—Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Chancellor's Professor of Anthropology, Head, Doctoral Program in Medical Anthropology, University of California Berkeley

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Student Challenge to Affirmative Action Returns to High Court

Fisher v. University of Texas[1]

In 2013 the Supreme Court issued a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas which affirmed the constitutionality of affirmative action admissions programs. However, the case was remanded to the Court of Appeals for a determination of whether University of Texas’ (UT) admission process is “narrowly tailored” under the majority’s new interpretation of that requirement.

The Fifth Circuit reconsidered the question and held UT’s policy was constitutionally permissible stating “It is equally settled that universities may use race as part of a holistic admissions program where it cannot otherwise achieve diversity,” Fisher appealed to the Supreme Court again. On June 29, 2015, the Court agreed to re-hear her case.
Many observers fear that the decision to reconsider the Fisher means UT's admissions policy could be in danger. An adverse result could jeopardize race-conscious admissions at universities across the nation.

Under the Fourteenth Amendment governmental policies that classify on the basis of race must have a "compelling justification" and the means chosen must be "narrowly tailored" to achieving a legitimate governmental interest. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court applied this standard and affirmed the constitutionality of University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions program.
The challenger in Fisher is a Texas resident who was denied admission to UT’s entering class in 2008. She contended that UT’s race-conscious admissions policies are unconstitutional because they reached beyond promoting the educational benefits of diversity and sought to achieve a quota that reflected Texas' racial composition. Fisher also argued that Texas had not given adequate consideration to race-neutral alternatives. Her alternate argument was minorities had already achieved a "critical mass" under Texas' "Top Ten Percent" law, making additional efforts to promote diversity unnecessary.

Under Texas' Top Ten Percent law, students with grades in the top tenth percentile of their high schools' graduating classes are automatically admitted. Applicants who are not in the top ten percent compete for admission based on their academic and personal achievement indices. Race is considered as one element of the personal achievement score but it is only one component of the total personal academic index.
In Fisher the Court affirmed Grutter’s ruling that student body diversity is a compelling state interest. The case focused instead on the “narrow tailoring” requirement. The majority held that the lower courts applied the wrong analysis when they deferred to UT's judgment regarding the need to consider race in its admissions process. The Court found that this misallocated the burden of proof. Universities, rather than plaintiffs, must show that race-neutral alternatives would not suffice to produce the educational benefits of diversity. The case was remanded to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit which ruled in UT’s favor. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case again.

The decades-long campaign against affirmative action has been relentless. Four of the Supreme Court Justices, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts are adamantly opposed to any form of affirmative action. Anthony Kennedy has never voted in favor of affirmative action but has thus far been unwilling to outlaw affirmative action altogether.
It is not certain that the court will issue a broad ban on any consideration of race. The justices could issue a narrower ruling. However, if the Court were satisfied with Fisher’s outcome at the appellate level there would have been no reason to hear the case for a second and unprecedented time. This raises a number of suspicions regarding the Justices’ motives. In affirmative action, voting rights, and employment discrimination, a conservative majority led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has amassed a record of rulings that are hostile to the interests of African Americans. It is unlikely that this trend will change. Fisher may turn out to be major setback for affirmative action.

[1] Leland Ware, Louis L. Redding Professor of Law, University of Delaware

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Roberts Court's Assault on Civil Rights

By Leland Ware

John Roberts was sworn in as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court on September 29, 2005. During his confirmation hearing Roberts said:

Mr. Chairman, I come before the committee with no agenda. I have no platform. Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes…I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability. And I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

Despite this “solemn” promise, Roberts set out, almost immediately, to advance an anti-affirmative action agenda. His decisions also show a record of hostility to the Civil Rights advances of African Americans.

Student Assignment Plans

In a 2007 case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District and Meredith v. Jefferson County School District, the Roberts Court struck down voluntary school desegregation programs.  School districts in Seattle, Washington and Louisville, Kentucky, developed assignment plans which assured that student populations in individual schools would reflect the racial demographics of the school districts. The purpose of both programs was to prevent segregation in individual schools.

Under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment the legal standard that applies to governmental policies that classify on the basis of race is "strict scrutiny." To satisfy this requirement, the government must have a "compelling justification" for the classification and the means chosen must be "narrowly tailored" to achieving a legitimate governmental interest.

In Parents Involved, groups of white parents filed suits contending that their children had been denied admission to the schools they preferred. The question in both cases was whether public school officials could use race conscious student assignment plans without violating the Fourteenth Amendment.

Roberts rejected diversity as a compelling governmental interest in elementary and high school student enrollments. Race could never be a factor in admissions assignments. He added cynically, [t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” This disingenuous comment equates affirmative action to remedy past discrimination to a “no blacks allowed” sign on a restaurant in the pre-Civil Rights South. There can be no legitimate comparison between the two.

In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in a case involving the University of Michigan that the Equal Protection Clause did not prevent the use of race-conscious admissions criteria to promote student body diversity. This should have been controlling legal precedent in Parents Involved. However, Justice Roberts’ plurality opinion attempted to distinguish the Michigan decision because it involved what he asserted were the “unique” circumstances of higher education. Roberts did not explain how student body diversity in higher education is different from diversity in elementary and secondary schools. This was a classic case of “distinction without a difference” when both principles were exactly the same.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy disagreed with Roberts stating a “compelling interest exists in avoiding racial isolation.” However, Kennedy and four other justices agreed that the assignment plans were not “narrowly tailored.” Race-neutral means should have been explored before resorting to a process that considered the students’ race. This created the 5-4 ruling against the school districts. Parents Involved makes efforts to achieve student body diversity in elementary and high schools extremely burdensome and difficult.

Disparate Impact Cases

In another case, Ricci v. DeStefano (2009), the Roberts court ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut, were victims of discrimination because they were not promoted after passing tests for lieutenant and captain positions. The test results were discarded after it was shown the test-based promotions would have excluded a disproportionate percentage of African American test takers. The majority held that New Haven acted with an intent to discriminate against the white and Hispanic firefighters.

To resolve what it viewed as a tension between the disparate impact and disparate treatment requirements the majority in Ricci imported a standard from affirmative-action jurisprudence under which race conscious actions by government actors are constitutional only when there is a “strong basis in evidence” that remedial actions are necessary.

This decision undermines long-standing disparate impact jurisprudence in which race-neutral policies are unlawful when they exclude a disproportionate percentage of racial minorities without a “business justification.”  This is exactly what the promotional examinations would have done in this case. New Haven acted in accordance with existing precedent. The Roberts majority upended well-established precedent to the detriment of racial minorities.

 Evidence of racial resentment can be found in Associate Justice Samuel Alito’s concurring opinion in Ricci. Alito described in detail his rank speculation about events surrounding the decision not to certify the firefighters’ examinations. He presented an elaborate scenario in which New Haven’s Mayor was heavily influenced by Reverend Boise Kimber, an African American minister. Alito depicted Kimber as an “angry black militant” who intimidated whites by calling them racists in public settings. Under Alito’s scenario, Kimber engineered the decision to prevent the white and Hispanic firefighters from receiving promotions. According to Alito’s fertile imagination:

Reverend Boise Kimber… is a politically powerful New Haven pastor and a self-professed  ‘kingmaker’ …On one occasion, ‘[i]n front of TV cameras, he threatened a race riot during the murder trial of the black man arrested for killing white Yalie Christian Prince. He continues to call whites racist if they question his actions… [On another occasion] Rev. Kimber told firefighters that certain new recruits would not be hired because “they just have too many vowels in their name[s] “…After protests about this comment, Rev. Kimber stepped down as chairman of the BFC… but he remained on the BFC and retained “a direct line to the mayor.”

None of these claims was established at any trial. Alito speculated that “a reasonable jury could easily find that the city’s real reason for scrapping the test results was not a concern about violating the disparate impact provisions of Title VII but a simple desire to please a politically important racial constituency.” Alito portrayed Kimber as an angry black bigot who frightened and intimidated whites. Kimber is an imposing, dark-complexioned African American male. Alito’s harsh portrayal fits the longstanding “Black Buck” stereotype; a large, hot-tempered, threatening, black male who defies white authority. Alito’s negative perception of Kimber suggests that he viewed Ricci through a fog of racial stereotypes and saw the case as an example of less qualified blacks benefiting from a “rigged” process that disadvantaged more deserving whites.

University Admissions

In 2013, the Supreme Court decided Fisher v. University of Texas. In an earlier case, Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court applied strict scrutiny and affirmed the constitutionality of University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions program. In Fisher the Court affirmed Grutter’s ruling that student body diversity is a compelling state interest.

The case focused instead on the “narrow tailoring” requirement. The majority held that universities must show that race-neutral alternatives would not suffice, stating “[t]he reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.”

This reverses the burden of proof in affirmative action cases and imposes on universities the nearly impossible obligation to show there are no workable race-neutral alternatives. Affirmative action survived Fisher hypothetically, but not in reality. The Roberts Court achieved its goal of gutting affirmative action.

Voting Rights

In one of its most significant and far-reaching decisions, the Roberts Court in Shelby County v. Holder, struck down the preclearance formula for the Voting Rights Act, gutting the law and opening the door to voter suppression tactics. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, states and jurisdictions, mostly in the former Confederate states, had to submit voting law changes for pre-approval (“preclearance”) by the Justice Department. Roberts wrote that the preclearance requirement was no longer necessary because in his view, the tide of racism in America and the South had receded. It was unfair, he contended, for the federal government to discriminate against states to prevent them from discriminating against minority voters.

The federal government argued that the evidence on which Congress in reenacting Sections 4 and 5 included 15,000 pages of testimony, reports, and data regarding racial disparities in voter registration, voter turnout, and electoral success; the nature and number of Section 5 objections; judicial preclearance suits and Section 5 enforcement actions; successful Section 2 litigation; the number of justice department information requests; reports from federal election observers; and evidence of racially polarized voting.

Rejecting the mountain of evidence in the voluminous record developed during the 2006 Congressional hearings, the majority found that preclearance was justified in the 1960s but conditions have changed over the 50 years since the VRA was originally enacted. The current record did not show the widespread and rampant discrimination that was common in the 1960s. 

What happened in the case was a Supreme Court majority re-weighing the evidence that Congress amassed which is precisely what an appellate court cannot do. This violates the well-established rule that courts are precluded from re-weighing or reconsidering evidence during an appeal. There is another, equally forceful principle that the Supreme Court should "invalidate a congressional enactment only upon a plain showing that Congress has exceeded its constitutional bounds." No such showing was made in this case. Roberts ignored the extensive congressional record and arrogated to himself the authority to re-weigh Congressional fact-finding when there was no basis for doing so except to advance his anti-minority agenda. After the Shelby County decision, Republican-controlled states have rushed to institute all sorts of voting restrictions that would otherwise have been blocked. 

Affirmative Action

In, Schuette v. BAMN, (2014) the Court ignored controlling precedent and overruled an appellate court’s pro-affirmative action decision. The central question was whether an amendment to a state’s constitution prohibiting race conscious affirmative action in university admission decisions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The challengers in Schuette relied on Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U. S. 369 (1967) in which voters amended the California Constitution to prohibit any state legislative interference with an owner’s prerogative to decline to sell or rent residential property on any basis. The Supreme Court concluded that the state constitutional provision was a denial of equal protection.

In another case, Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U. S. 385 (1969) voters amended a city charter to overturn a Fair Housing ordinance and to require that any additional antidiscrimination housing laws be approved by referendum. The Supreme Court found that under the “political process” doctrine, by singling out antidiscrimination ordinances, the city charter amendment “places special burden on racial minorities within the governmental process,” making it as impermissible as  any other government action taken with the intent to injure a racial minority.

Relying on Reitman and Hunter the challengers in Schuette argued that the amendment placed special burdens on minority groups in a manner that violated the Equal Protection Clause. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the opinion for the three-justice plurality. Kennedy argued that the issue was whether the voters of a state could choose to prohibit the use of racial preferences in the decisions of governmental bodies. His opinion concluded that the attempt to define and protect interests based on race ran the risk of allowing the government to classify people based on race perpetuating the same racism such policies were meant to alleviate. While voters may determine that some race-based preferences should be adopted, it was not the role of the courts to disempower the voters from making such a choice. The reasoning of Reitman and Hunter was rejected. This was another battle in the Supreme Court’s war against affirmative action and other measures that seek to advance the equal rights of African Americans.


The tide of racism in America and the South has not receded nearly as much as Justice Roberts contends. If anything, racial antagonism and hostility has grown as the nightly news reports of police violence against African Americans demonstrate. Voter suppression tactics are rampant. Roberts’ disingenuousness, lack of adherence to precedent and his overturning decades of prior decisions shows that his "real" agenda is anti-black.
Leland Ware is the  Louis L. Redding Professor of Law & Public Policy at the University of Delaware.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Without Mercy" is Nominated for Lillian Smith Book Award

Without Mercy: The Stunning True Story of Race, Crime and Corruption in the Deep South

by David Beasley

On December 9, 1938, the state of Georgia executed six black men in eighty-one minutes in Tattnall Prison's electric chair. The executions were a record for the state that still stands today. The new prison, built with funds from FDR's New Deal, as well as the fact that the men were tried and executed rather than lynched were thought to be a sign of progress. They were anything but. While those men were arrested, convicted, sentenced, and executed in as little as six weeks---E. D. Rivers, the governor of the state, oversaw a pardon racket for white killers and criminals, allowed the Ku Klux Klan to infiltrate his administration, and bankrupted the state. Race and wealth were all that determined whether or not a man lived or died. There was no progress. There was no justice.
David Beasley's Without Mercy is the harrowing true story of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the violent death throes of the Klan, but most of all it is the story of the stunning injustice of these executions and how they have seared distrust of the legal system into the consciousness of the Deep South, and it is a story that will forever be a testament to the death penalty's appalling inequality that continues to plague our nation
“Not often does a single book deal with governmental corruption, poverty, inequality, history and crime. David Beasley's book does all that - and does it masterfully…The grinding poverty that drenched the state is described in a way that tears at the soul...Anyone interested in the sufferings of the Great Depression and in criminal justice will benefit from perusing this work. It is a keeper, one of the best I've seen in a long time.” - The Oklahoman
“David Beasley's prodigious research has excavated the bones of a sordid time in Georgia's history, when the unholy alliance of corruption and white supremacy, operating behind the mask of civility and the hood of the Ku Klux Klan, perverted justice all the way to the death chamber. Beasley shows men of privilege and of penury, white and black, all of them convicted criminals, as they move closer to the electric chair and beg for exemption from one of the nation's largest mass executions in a single day.” - Hank Klibanoff, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation
“The modern death penalty in Georgia was preceded not too many years before by a system that was plagued by racism, injustice, and political corruption. In his fascinating book, Without Mercy, David Beasley tells the stories of many who vainly sought justice in this earlier system. Hopefully, all such prejudice and official misconduct has been weeded out, but it would be naive to think The modern death penalty in Georgia was preceded not too many years before by a system that was plagued by racism, injustice, and political corruption. In his fascinating book, Without Mercy, David Beasley tells the stories of many who vainly sought justice in this earlier system. Hopefully, all such prejudice and official misconduct has been weeded out, but it would be naive to think that human nature has changed so radically that executions can now be carried out without deep concerns.” - Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center
“David Beasley's superb Without Mercy is that rare true-crime book that deepens your understanding of a time and place even as it shakes you to the bone. If Raymond Chandler and James Agee had gotten together, this is what they might have written.” - Steve Oney, author of And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank
“Without Mercy builds outward from one dramatic event, the mass execution of six black men in Georgia in 1938, to tell a compelling story that rings the bell of justice to our own time.” - James H. Madison, author of A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America
“Without Mercy reads like a John Grisham thriller, but unfortunately, it isn't. It is, sadly and regrettably, entirely true. In a meticulous and measured book that lifts the curtain on a handful of murders that took place in Georgia in the New Deal era, David Beasley has illuminated the role that race, wealth, social status, and privilege play in determining who lives and who dies in our nation's execution chambers. This is not only history and crime-writing at its very finest, it is a haunting and searing moral indictment of a legal system that remains to this day characterized by the very same inequalities.” - David R. Dow, author of The Autobiography of an Execution
“Beasley builds his thesis case by case. [and] retains his reporter's objectivity as he records the facts.” - Book Reporter
“David Beasley's fastidiously researched Without Mercy tells the story of a justice system that was anything but just... Much like a nightmare or a heart-pounding action movie, this is a story one doesn't easily forget. Without Mercy is history, but its shadows and echoes are still very much alive today in the unsettling and eye-opening reality of capital punishment... A terrifying study of how lopsided the justice system can be while still technically maintaining the letter of the law.” - Shelf Awareness
“This is a gripping read for anyone... This is a must read.” - Charleston Chronicle
“The book Without Mercy, is a stunning true story of race, crime and corruption in the deep South as it pertains to the pattern of convicting and in some cases executing people of color without fair a trial.” - Baltimore Sun
“[Beasley] effectively juxtaposes the lives of the black men who were executed with white men who were not, following their passage through the judicial system. Beasley's well-documented and vivid account ultimately puts capital punishment itself on trial.” - Publishers Weekly
“Beasley's catalogue of inequities accrues to a kind of tragic narrative, a tale in which progress is too slow to save those whom tradition would rather let die.” - The Boston Globe
“Georgia's history is a goldmine of corruption, and David Beasley... has reached in and grabbed a few glittering chunks for examination... Without Mercy is well researched and Beasley moves along his various plots with a mannered precision that emphasizes the giddy perversities of Georgia life in the '30s.” - Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Must-read.” - New York Post

Saturday, May 9, 2015

"Desire and Disaster in New Orleans" is Nominated for Lillian Smith Book Award

Desire and Disaster in New Orleans:
Tourism, Race and Historical Memory
By Lynnell L. Thomas

New Orleans has long been a place of desire, luring visitors to the city “to do things that they felt they couldn’t do in other places,” said Lynnell L. Thomas.

But along with the pleasures that New Orleans offers — good food, music and other charms — it is a city with a painful past and sometimes disastrous present.

In Desire & Disaster in New Orleans: Tourism, Race and Historical Memory (Duke University Press, 2014), Thomas examines how New Orleans is presented — pre- and post-Katrina — in tourism advertising and through the guided tours that thousands of out-of-towners take every year.

“All of those things that I talk about, I’m a product of and appreciate,” said Thomas, a native of New Orleans. “It is this strange thing of being an insider and also being critical.”

Thomas earned a Master of Liberal Arts from Tulane University in 1997, and then went on to get a PhD from Emory University. She is now an associate professor and chair of American studies at the University of Massachusetts–Boston.

Thomas began to research the mythologies of New Orleans tourism when she discovered “servant” dolls sold in French Quarter souvenir shops.

A tag on a brightly dressed doll, Cleo, Market Lady, described her “high station” in a household that she ran smoothly, “respected by the other servants and loved by the family she served.”

But, wait a second, thought Thomas. These attractive dolls ignore the fact that black women running households on a plantation before the Civil War were not “servants” but instead slaves performing “unpaid, coerced labor to sustain the plantation system.”

It is a disservice to the richness and depth of New Orleans culture to neglect, deny or distort the pain as well as the pleasure that is imbued in it, said Thomas. “It certainly won’t help us preserve it.”