Michelle Alexander, a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, advocate and legal scholar, will visit UMKC on Jan. 27 as the speaker for the Martin Luther King Keynote Address.
She was chosen because she is a “perfect fit” and “exemplifies the kinds of work Dr. King did,” according to Kristi Ryujin, Assistant Vice Chancellor of the Division of Diversity, Access & Equity (DAE).
Much of her current work reflects the lessons she learned in her career as a civil rights lawyer and advocate in both the private and non-profit sectors.
Professor Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, according to her profile on Ohio State University’s website.
For several years, Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, where she helped to lead a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. While an associate at Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, she specialized in plaintiff-side class action lawsuits alleging race and gender discrimination.
She currently holds a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. Alexander has been an Associate Professor of Law at Ohio State University since 2005. Before joining the OSU faculty, she was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic.
Alexander’s first book, titled “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” was published in 2010. In it, she challenges the widely-held beliefs that with the election of Barack Obama, our nation has overcome racial differences, according to the book’s official website, newjimcrow.com.
Alexander notes that all the old forms of discrimination – employment, housing, education, and public benefits, denial of voting rights and exclusion from jury service – are suddenly legal once you’re labeled a felon. “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it,” she said.
“Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Ku Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation. His father was barred from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Jarvious Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole,” Alexander wrote in the introduction of her book.
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” is considered one of the top African American books of 2010 and it won the NAACP Image Award for “outstanding literary work of non-fiction.” The book has been featured on national radio and television media outlets, including NPR, The Bill Moyers Journal, the Tavis Smiley Show and the C-Span Washington Journal, among others, according to the DAE website.