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The New Jim Crow

Racial profiling, criminalization, police brutality, disenfranchisement, and mass incarceration of African Americans and other people of color constitute today’s legal system for institutionalized racism, discrimination, and exclusion in the United States.

Dr. Michelle Alexander, civil rights advocate, litigator, scholar and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness exposes today’s racial caste system and how to resist it. Dr. Alexander spoke to an audience of over 600 people at Justice General Assembly 2012 in Phoenix and challenged Unitarian Universalists to learn more, witness, and act to stop the oppression of people of color perpetuated through the criminal legal system in our communities and across the country. 

As Unitarian Universalists, we have the religious grounding, the resources, and the opportunity to make a difference in partnership with those who are most affected by institutionalized racism and “the new Jim Crow.”


See Standing on the Side of Love with Ferguson for resources and actions for the resistance!

The Interfaith Organizing Initiative (IOI) gathered together in Chicago in May 2014, a hundred-strong, with leaders from faith communities, grassroots organizations, national networks, funders and allies to lift up a challenge to the faith community – to address the crisis at the intersection of criminalization and race.  Now the IOI has launched a new resource hub addressing the intersection of criminalization and race that serves the faith community and the broader movement for justice and democracy.  It includes videos, documents and links to build relationships and take action.

Take Action-Support the Smarter Sentencing Bill

New! Please join UUA President Rev. Peter Morales and sign this interfaith clergy letter in support of the Smarter Sentencing Act.

The UUA is working with the Faith in Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group to get the Smarter Sentencing Bill passed.  The legislation would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses and authorize judicial review of cases sentenced under the old 100 to 1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity for possible resentencing. Read the letter here and stay tuned for call-in days, petitions, and other actions. Join UUs Resisting New Jim Crow & Mass Incarceration for updates.

Sermon: “The Fierce Urgency of Now” 

On August 25, 2013, Rev. Dr. Robert M. Hardies, Senior Minister of All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington, DC, delivered a sermon that built on the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to call for us to again respond to the fierce urgency of now.

“We, too, have endured a summer of racial discontent in our nation. A summer that began with the Supreme Court of the United States eviscerating the Voting Rights Act. A summer that came to a boil with a Florida jury acquitting George Zimmerman of the murder of Trayvon Martin. ... And a summer that ended—finally and shamefully—with the United States Congress adjourning once again without passing comprehensive immigration reform.”

Find a Partner Group in Your Community and State!

  • Partners: Many faith-based and racial justice organizations are working to support prisoners and their families and to stop mass incarceration. Find one near you!

Reach out to people and organizations who are leading the movement to end mass incarceration and other UUs. Read how UU congregations are doing this:

Read The New Jim Crow

Invite your congregation and members of your community to read Dr. Alexander's book together. Use the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Study Guide for your conversations.

The New Jim Crowwas selected as the 2012-2013 Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Common Read! A Common Read invites Unitarian Universalists to read and discuss the same book in their congregations and communities. The UUA New Jim Crow discussion guide (PDF, 19 pages) is available to help UU groups reflect on the book and consider together what steps they are called to take, as people of faith, in response to Alexander’s call for awareness and action.

Watch the Video of Dr. Alexander’s Riveting Presentation at Justice General Assembly

2012 General Assembly Workshop full video: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration and Institutional Racism led by Michelle Alexander

Next Steps: Building the Movement to End the New Jim Crow

In the 2013 General Assembly Workshop “Building the Movement to End The New Jim Crow,” UU leaders Rev. Eric Meter, Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Paula Cole Jones, and Susan Leslie shared strategies and practices for engaging congregations and communities in a new movement of liberation and transformation.

Learn More!

Develop UU Theological Grounding for Resisting the New Jim Crow

  • 2005 UUA Statement of Conscience: Criminal Justice and Prison Reform
  • Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 'The New Jim Crow', sermon delivered on Sunday, March 25, 2012
  • Rev. Fred Small, First Parish in Cambridge Unitarian Universalist, Massachusetts, 'The New Jim Crow', sermon delivered Sunday, March 24, 2013
  • Rev. Kathy Schmitz, First Unitarian  Church of Orlando, FLorida, ‘The Age of Colorblindness,’ sermon delivered Sunday, July 14, 2013, the day after the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial of Trayvon Martin.
  • Adriene Thorne, Middle Collegiate Church, New York, NY ‘Are You My Neighbor?,’ sermon delivered Sunday, July 14, 2013, the day after the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial of Trayvon Martin.

Join the Discussion

For more information contact socialjustice @

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Monday, November 3, 2014.

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GA 2013 Workshop: Building the Movement to End The New Jim Crow. Speakers: Rev. Eric Meter, Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Paula Cole Jones

"The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration and Institutional Racism," event 213 at General Assembly 2012. (Combination of video and still images, with full audio of the workshop.)
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