Civil rights lawyer and scholar
It took a costly social battle for the civil rights movement to dismantle Jim Crow in the South, an unjust system in which African Americans were denied the right to vote and to share lunch counters and classrooms with white residents. But decades later, in 2010, Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” argued that one system of racial oppression had been replaced by another: the nation’s jails and prisons, filled disproportionately with black men, branded with criminal records they would never be able to erase.
“The New Jim Crow” has since become a touchstone for a new generation of civil rights activists, with Cornel West calling it “the secular bible of a new movement.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, launching a public read-along of the book on his blog at the Atlantic last year, wrote, “I can’t remember a book that’s brought more attention to a particular societal injustice in recent years.” Alexander’s work received the loudest shout-out of all when musician John Legend quoted her during an acceptance speech at the Oscars, telling a global audience, “There are more black men under correctional control today” — meaning prison, probation and parole — “than were under slavery in 1850.”
“An awakening has finally begun, evidenced by the uprisings in Ferguson and the protests that have swept the nation in recent months reflecting decades of hurt, frustration and justified rage,” said Alexander, a professor at Ohio State University. “I think it's fair to say that the future of American democracy itself may rest on whether we're going to continue to dispose of poor people and people of color en masse, or treat them as though their lives actually matter.”