Race and Reform in Twenty-First Century America: Foreword

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Boston University School of Law
Trina Jones
Guy-Uriel Charles


In November 2015, approximately two hundred activists, academics, and students from across the United States convened at Duke University School of Law for a conference entitled The Present and Future of Civil Rights Movements: Race and Reform in 21st Century America. Planning for the conference had commenced a year earlier, in the fall of 2014. At that time, the nation was reeling from the deaths of Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, and Michael Brown, among others. In addition to the killing of these unarmed Black men and women by law enforcement personnel, many people, particularly within the civil rights community, were also alarmed by the use of military force against civilian protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, and with the acquittal of George Zimmerman following the death of Trayvon Martin. Amid grave concerns about the criminal justice system, significant threats to the ideal of democracy were being revived, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 1 which struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, as well as subsequent legislative action in several states to erode the franchise.