Michelle Alexander (1967 – ) Civil Rights Lawyer, Legal Scholar & Best Selling Author

“Mass incarceration is the most pressing racial justice issue of our time,” a declarative statement by the highly acclaimed civil rights lawyer, legal scholar, advocate and best selling author, Michelle Alexander. Best known for her groundbreaking book. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, she unveils the rebirth of the pervasive racial caste system thought by many to have ended after the passing of the Civil Rigts Act of 1964. Published in 2010, the bestseller helped to transform the national debate on racial and criminal justice in the United States by highlighting how the alleged “war-on-drugs,” led to the mass imprisonment of black men in America.  The book has won numerous awards, including the 2011 NAACP Image Award.  The legal scholar has been featured on numerous nationally-syndycated broadcasts shows, as well as, film documentaries such as Hidden Colors 2 and 13th.

Michelle Alexander was born on October 7, 1967 in Chicago Illinois. Her father, John Alexander, was a salesman for IBM. Her mother, Sandra Alexander, was the senior vice president of the ComNet Marketing Group. Michelle was raised with her younger sister Leslie. In 1977, the family moved to the San Francisco area.

After graduating high school in Ashland, Oregon she attenedd Vanderbilt University where she earned a B.A. degree and received a Truman Scholarship. She earned a J.D. degree from Stanford Law School.

She first worked as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Harry A Blackmun and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. She engaged in civil rights litigation in both the private and nonprofit sector and has taught at a number of universities, including Stanford Law School, where she was an associate professor of law and directed the Civil Rights Clinic. .

In 1998, she accepted the job as director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, where she began investigating instituitional racisim in America’s justice system. She coordinated the Project’s media advocacy, grassroots organizing, and coalition, building and launched a major campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement known as the “DWB Campaign” or “Driving While Black or Brown Campaign.”

In 2005, Alexander won a Soros Justice Fellowship that supported the writing of The New Jim Crow and accepted a joint appointment at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University.  

Since The New Jim Crow was first published in 2010, it has spent nearly 250 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and has been cited in judicial decisions and adopted in campus-wide and community-wide reads. The landmark book has inspired a generation of racial justice activists and has awakened many Americans from a “colorblind slumber.

In 2011, the book earned the NAACP Image Award for best nonfiction.  Alexander has been featured in national radio and television media outlets, including MSNBC, NPR, CNN, Bill Moyers Journal, The Colbert Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Tavis Smiley, Democracy Now!, and C-SPAN

In 2016, she was the recipient of the 21st Annual Heinz Award. The following year, she was the recieptent of the MLK Dreamer Award.

From 2016 to 2018, she was the visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Currently, she is a contributing opinion columnist for The New York Times. There she collaborated on a piece with her sister, Leslie Alexander, entitled “Fear” which became a chapter in Nichole Hannah-Jones’s The 1619 Project.


“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

“So many aspects of the Old Jim Crow are suddenly legal again once you’ve been branded a felon.”

 “Today there are more African American adults, under correctional control, in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850 a decade before the Civil War began.”

“I don’t think I understood the full extent of the trauma experienced by people who churn through America’s prisons until I began taking the time to listen to their stories.”

“On any given day, there’s always something I’d rather be doing than facing the ugly, racist underbelly of America.”

“Slavery by Another Name’ is an important book that I think all Americans should read, about how, following the end of slavery, a new system of racial and social control was born, known as ‘convict leasing.”

“The greatest myth about mass incarceration is that it has been driven by crime and crime rates. It’s just not true.”

“All the old forms of discrimination, the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind, are now perfectly legal once you’ve been labeled a felon.”

“We need to learn our history in all of its shameful detail, then act up for change on all fronts.”

“Today’s lynching is a felony charge. Today’s lynching is incarceration. Today’s lynch mobs are professionals. They have a badge; they have a law degree. A felony is a modern way of saying, ‘I’m going to hang you up and burn you.’ Once you get that F, you’re on fire.”

“We must get it right this time or risk losing our democracy forever.”

“Denial may be neither a matter of telling the truth nor intentionally telling a lie. There seem to be states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and don’t know at the same time.” (quoting Stanley Cohen)

“Our only hope for our collective liberation is a politics of deep solidarity rooted in love.”







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