Race and Justice in America

A Variety of Voices

Developed by Leroy Rowe with librarian consultants Elizabeth Hartsig and Holly Williams

  • Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched A Hundred Years of Federalism  by Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips, Jr.
  • Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle
  • The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots by Brenda Stevenson
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race by Jesmyn Ward


Race and Justice in America seeks to encourage a discourse on the complex and often uneasy relationship between Americans citizens and the American system of justice. The hope is that participants will gain new insights on the ways that institutionalized racism and individual biases often manifest themselves in ways that deny some American citizens (mostly black and brown people, who also make up the vast majority of the poor in this country,) their constitutional right to equal protection and equal treatment under the laws. Indeed, the series will demonstrate that race has been a defining feature of the American democratic experience and that the ideology of white supremacy is still deeply embedded within the American system of justice today. As such, it challenges the notions of this being a “postracial” society and that the American system of justice is both impartial and “colorblind.”

Relying on history’s capacity to explain why things are, the Race and Justice in America series seeks to explain not only white fear and black anger, but also why many black and brown people have a profound mistrust of this country’s process of using laws founded on an ideology of white supremacy to judge and punish its non-white citizens. The series aims to encourage civil discourse by illuminating the linkages between the past and present. Another goal of the series is to show the effect that the political system of race has had on both individuals and communities of color across the nation. That is, what has changed and what remains the same in the treatment of black and brown citizens in the American justice system from the 1890s through two decades of the current century?

Race and Justice in America also explores the changing boundaries and content of citizenship. The core questions that the series engages are: how is membership in the social and political community defined for African Americans and whites in the United States? How have those definitions changed over time? Can all citizens fully exercise their constitutional rights?

Race and Justice in America asks: What was it like to be black in the Jim Crow South during legalized segregation—a period of state-sponsored racism and white supremacy? It also raises the questions, how do black individuals and communities across different regions of the country experience justice in America and in what ways have those experiences changed during and since the end of legalized segregation? Thus, the series examines the legal structure and cost of de jure Jim Crow with an eye toward building greater understanding of racial discrimination as a national rather than local or regional phenomenon. For example, the series will show that the Jim Crow criminal justice system has never been exclusively southern, nor has its victims been entirely male. As the readings will illuminate, institutional racism has discriminated against both black men and black women. Likewise, the series also demonstrates that racism is still deeply embedded in the American criminal justice system of the urban North, Midwest, and West as well.

The series spans the period from the turn-of-the-twentieth-century through the first two decades of the current. Particular focus is placed upon the racial underpinnings that inform the interactions between black citizens and America’s institutions of justice. What are the sources (legal traditions, legal text, ethical values, and cultural norms) that shape how policymakers, judges, prosecutors, police officers, and journalists evaluate and treat black citizens who come in contact with the criminal justice system? Additionally, the series links the methods of historical inquiry and analysis with those of legal and political scholarship and autobiographical narrative to emphasize the racial undercurrents behind public policies and court rulings, and the legal constraints that operate on social processes. Thus, all of the books in this series draw on interpretative legal works, historical events, and individual lived experiences to better illuminate the roots of the complex and often uneasy relationship between black Americans and the U.S. justice system.

The books selected for this series will demonstrate and help readers better understand the ways that concepts of white power and racism is embedded within the American legal and criminal justice systems and, as a result, impact how justice is both dispensed and is experienced by individuals and communities at different periods of history and across the different regions of the country. As such, each of the books in this series provides historical analyses of selected events, court rulings, and public policies that help to explain the black Americans struggle for citizenship, civil rights, and equal treatment under the laws, and how justice is often undercut by institutional racism and private prejudices. The books offer a thorough, stimulating, and riveting look at selected events, court cases, and individual stories that clearly depict the peculiar and tenuous relationship between justice and the law as well as the toll often exacted upon individuals, communities, and the nation.