A Prominent Scholar-Activist Trades Law for the Seminary
By Alexander C. Kafka
When Michelle Alexander’s white Lutheran mother, Sandra, and black Methodist father, John, wanted to get married in Chicago in 1965, neither of their churches wanted to perform the service.
A Methodist pastor did reluctantly preside over the ceremony. Still, Sandra felt betrayed. “She raised us with a strong spiritual grounding,” recalls Ms. Alexander, “but with the understanding that you don’t necessarily find God and find spirituality in churches and that churches can often be on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of love.”
On its face, then, it’s strange that Ms. Alexander, author of the best-selling The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press, 2010), is “walking away from the law” and her recent law professorship at Ohio State University to take a five-year visiting professorship at Union Theological Seminary. What seems a radical career shift, however, is actually a natural evolution in her thinking on racial justice, say Ms. Alexander and those who have worked with her.
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