The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis will host a lecture by Hooks National Book Award winning author James Forman Jr. Jan. 31.
The free public event will be held in the University Center Theatre beginning with a reception at 5:30 p.m., followed by a lecture at 6 p.m.
The Hooks Institute selected Forman’s book “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America” as the winner of the 2017 Hooks National Book Award. A former Washington, D.C. public defender, Forman’s book netted the 2018 Pulitizer Prize in General Nonfiction.
In his book, Forman argues that the disproportionate impact of long prison sentences on African-American communities was not shaped solely by whites, but in part by the exasperation of some African Americans who urgently demanded action to deescalate crime in their communities related to drugs. He encourages a candid examination of the forces that created draconian criminal sentences related to drugs to encourage honest and transformative reform of the criminal justice system.
“James Forman Jr.’s book is a tremendous contribution to today’s vibrant discussions about mass incarceration and the criminal justice systems that continue to devastate black communities,” says Hooks Book Award Committee chair Daniel Kiel.
“It provides a layer of complexity to those discussions by investigating local decisions that gave rise to mass incarceration, decisions that were often endorsed by black leaders. With a compelling personal touch, Forman frames the problem as a series of smaller decisions rather than as a massive conspiracy, providing a sense of hope that there is an opportunity to incrementally confront an incrementally constructed system.”
“Forman shows us that the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office amid a surge in crime and drug addiction. In response, these officials embraced tough-on-crime measures that would have unforeseen but devastating consequences for residents of poor black neighborhoods. …
“Forman tells riveting stories of politicians, community activists, police officers, defendants, and crime victims trapped in terrible dilemmas. Locking Up Our Own enriches our understanding of why our society became so punitive and offers important lessons to anyone concerned about the future of race and the criminal justice system in this country.”
The Hooks Institute’s National Book Award is presented to a nonfiction book, published in the calendar year, that best furthers understanding of the American Civil Rights Movement and its legacy.
Twenty-eight nominations were received for the 2017 book award from a variety of trade publishers, university presses and literary organizations. In addition to “Locking Up Our Own,” the other 2017 finalists were “Coretta Scott King: My Life, My Love, My Legacy” by Coretta Scott King, as told to Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds; “Harambee City: The Congress of Racial Equality in Cleveland and The Rise of Black Power Populism” by Nishani Fraizer; “The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of An Idea” by Christopher J. Lebron; and “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The presenting sponsor is Just City. Other sponsors include, from the UofM: African and African American Studies, Black Law Students Association, Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, Department of Anthropology, Department of History, Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities and Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, as well as Burke’s Book Store and The Wharton Law Firm.
Visit memphis.edu/benhooks/events for more information.