James Forman, Yale law professor, and Nancy MacLean, history professor at Duke University, are the 2018 recipients of the Lillian Smith Book Awards.
The Southern Regional Council established the Lillian Smith award after Smith's 1966 death. Internationally acclaimed as author of the controversial novel, Strange Fruit (1944), Lillian Smith was the most outspoken of white, mid-20th century Southern writers on issues of social and racial injustice. Today the University of Georgia, the Georgia Center for the Book and Piedmont College join the SRC in presenting the awards. http://www.libs.uga.edu/hargrett/lilliansmith/index.html
Forman’s Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America examines how mass incarceration, which affects people of color disproportionately, stems from the war on crime that began in the 1970s and was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers. MacLean’s Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America has roiled the far right with its look at the history behind the movement whose goal is to constrict the function of democratic governance.
A former public defender, James Forman Jr. uses research, combined with that experience to look at how the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States was constructed incrementally over a 40-year period, examining in particular the role that African Americans unwittingly played in that effort, which has made the U.S. the world's largest jailer.
The first part of Forman’s book looks at the evolution of the “tough on crime” movement which began as an effort to help African-American communities plagued by drugs and black-on-black crime. The second half examines the consequences of those attempts.
“When black leaders in D.C. fought for and convinced the people that guns should be illegal, their motivation was to stop the hemorrhaging of black lives through black-on-black crime. Instead, guns flowed in from other states, and "stop and search" tactics resulted. Stop and search efforts uncovered few gun violations but an overwhelming number of minor drug offenses, with the potential to destroy people's livelihoods. Through these and other eye-opening examples, Forman enlightens readers about not only African Americans' contributions to the mass incarceration epidemic but also how well-meaning choices end up having a detrimental effect on the people they were most intended to protect,” according to a review in Shelf Awareness.
“Forman's comprehensive research and analysis, as well as his compassion and personal experiences, make Locking Up Our Own a powerfully important and accessible glimpse at the U.S.'s punitive criminal justice system. His observation that the country always makes room in prisons, but can't do the same in drug treatment centers, is telling of misplaced priorities. Furthermore, he recognizes that repetitive efforts to treat root problems such as education, income inequality, employment and health care rarely, if ever, take precedence over punishment. Forman's voice is one of logic and reason, and in his epilogue it is also one of benevolence: "What if we strove for compassion, for mercy, for forgiveness?" The U.S. has always struggled for justice of various kinds, and now Forman offers a strong case for the world's largest jailer to consider humanity,” it concludes.
Locking Up Our Own also is winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
MacLean’s 10 years of research behind the headlines of the influence of money in politics finds a troubling history and tells a chilling story of right-wing academics and big money run amok. She reveals the role of Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan—and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority. MacLean shows how Buchanan forged his ideas about government in a last gasp attempt to preserve the white elite’s power in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education.
In response to the widening of American democracy, Buchanan developed a brilliant, if diabolical, plan to undermine the ability of the majority to use its numbers to level the playing field between the rich and powerful and the rest of us. When a multibillionaire on a messianic mission to rewrite the social contract of the modern world, Charles Koch, discovered Buchanan, he created a vast, relentless, and multi-armed machine to carry out Buchanan’s strategy. Without Buchanan’s ideas and Koch’s money, the libertarian right would not have succeeded in its stealth takeover of the Republican Party as a delivery mechanism.”
MacLean is the William H. Chafe Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke.
Democracy in Chains also is winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award.