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Civil Rights lawyer to speak as part of conference

Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 17:02

Michelle Alexander, a highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer and author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," will present a public lecture at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 in Watkins Auditorium, Boling University Center, on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin.

Alexander 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. Prior to joining the Kirwan Institute, Alexander was an associate professor of law at Stanford Law School, where she directed the civil rights clinics.

In 2005, she won a Soros Justice Fellowship, which supported the writing of her first book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," published in 2010.

The book is considered one of the top African American books of 2010 and has been featured on national radio and television media outlets, including NPR, The Bill Moyers Journal, the Tavis Smiley Show and C-Span Washington Journal. It also won the NAACP Image Award for "outstanding literary work of non-fiction."

"The New Jim Crow" challenges the idea that, with the election of Barack Obama as president, the United States has "triumphed over race." She argues that the sudden and dramatic mass incareration of African American men, primarily

through the war on drugs, has created a new group of people defined largely by race that is subject to legalized discrimination, scorn and social exclusion.

"Michelle Alexander demonstrates the legal and political mechanisms by which a new racial hierarchy has been built in the United States," said David Barber, associate professor of history.  "She helps us all re-think the meaning and results of the civil rights movement. Anyone interested in real justice in this country needs to hear what she has to say."

Her work reflects lessons learned in her previous career as a civil rights lawyer and advocate in both the private and non-profit sector. For several years, Alexander served as the director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, where she helped lead a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement.

Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University.

Her lecture is co-sponsored by Honors Programs and the Civil Rights Conference and is part of the annual Academic Speaker Series.

The presentation is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Dr. Lionel Crews, director of Honors Programs, at 731-881-7436 or by email at


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