Carol Anderson presents her work on voter suppression
Anderson was awarded the Gittler Prize and spoke to students about her research and books at a variety of events.
On Oct. 26, Provost Carol A. Fierke presented Dr. Carol Anderson the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize.
Anderson, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University, was in residence at Brandeis from Oct. 24-26 to share her work. She has written numerous books, including: “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy”; “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide”; and “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America.” Anderson was elected into the Society of American Historians and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as named a W.E.B. Du Bois Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.
Professor Joseph B. Gittler created the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize in 2007 “to recognize outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations,” according to the University’s website on the prize. The award consists of a cash prize of $25,000 and a medal.
On Oct. 24, there was a screening of the documentary “I, Too,” a film that showcases the life and work of Anderson in a racially divided United States. Director of the Women's Studies Research Center Harleen Singh and Director of the non-profit organization, Humanity in Action, Judith Goldstein introduced Anderson and the film. Anderson’s work investigates social, political, and economic structures that reproduce discrimination against Black people. She emphasizes the parallels between current events, like the Black Lives Matter movement and the Jan. 6 Insurrection, and the historical record of America’s treatment of Black people. Moreover, the film explored many historical events like the Wilmington coup of 1898 in North Carolina, the Hamburg Massacre in South Carolina, and the Ocoee Massacre in Florida. After the film there was a discussion between Anderson and Laurie Nsiah-Jefferson, Director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at University of Massachusetts, Boston. Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center Resident Scholar K. Melchor Quick Hall moderated the discussion.
On Oct. 25, Anderson visited the joint class meeting of Introduction to African and African American Studies, taught by Professor Chad Williams (AAAS/HIST), and Civil Liberties in America, taught by Professor Jeffrey Lenowitz (POL). Later in the day, Anderson met with the class Power and Violence, taught by Professor Elizabeth Ferry (ANTH).
On the same day, there was a discussion on Anderson’s book, “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy.” Profs. Zachary Albert (POL) and Jill Greenlee (POL) gave the opening remarks. Both thanked David Weinstein, the Assistant Director of ENACT and Communications and Academic Administrator Rosanne Colocouris for organizing the event. Mandy Feuerman ’25 and Maia Lefferman ’25 managed the VoteDeis Campus Coalition table at the event. Anderson examined numerous topics surrounding voter suppression, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, weakening of the Voting Rights Act, significant court cases like “Shelby County v. Holder,” voter ID laws, and voter roll purges.
One example of discriminatory voter ID laws Anderson mentioned was in Alabama. Alabama required voters to have a government issued photo ID to vote; however, public housing IDs did not count, and 71% of inhabitants in public housing in Alabama are Black. Former Governor Robert Bentley shut down the Department of Motor Vehicles in Black Belt counties for fiscal reasons to decrease the budget’s deficit. The result was people needed to travel 50 miles to obtain a driver’s license even though they could not drive the distance themselves. Moreover, Alabama is ranked 48th in the country in terms of public transportation.
On Oct. 26, Dr. Anderson led a discussion titled, “Pursuing Racial Justice: A Conversation about Freedom, Democracy, and Human Rights” at the Heller School. There were introductory speeches by Heller School Interim Dean Maria Madison and Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion LeManuel “Lee” Bitsóí. Anderson then gave a talk, followed by a Q&A session and discussion of some quotes from her book “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide.” She first addressed the relationship between voter fraud and the criminalization of Black people. She highlighted how cities with large Black populations such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee were accused of voter fraud when there was no evidence of massive voter fraud. Additionally, she discussed how the foundation of the 2nd Amendment was anti-Blackness and the identification of Black people as inherently criminal, violent, and dangerous to the white community. “As a nation, we have been willing to accept being unsafe in our schools, our children having to do shooter drills…” she said, “because of this anti-Blackness [and] our unwillingness to begin to rethink what real security looks like, what real safety feels like.”
On the day of the award presentation, Provost Fierke gave the opening remarks, thanking the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life, which administers the prize on behalf of the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost; Director of Programs in International Justice and Society Leigh Swigart, Ethics Center administrator Pyunghwa Lee, and Event Manager Catherine Doyle for organizing the event; and the Gittler selection committee.
Professor Williams then gave an introduction on Anderson. He stated that “American democracy is in crisis” and asked, “what responsibility do we as scholars…and more importantly as citizens have to address these issues?” Anderson and her work serves as a model for ways to save democracy.
Afterwards, Fierke presented the Gittler Prize to Anderson. In Anderson’s lecture, “White Rage: From Reconstruction to the January 6th Insurrection,” she talked about the origins of her idea to address the topic of white rage. She observed that footage of Ferguson, Missouri focused on “Black rage.” She argued that media coverage like this pushes a “consistent narrative of the pathology of Black people. This nation needs that narrative to say, ‘America would be fine except those Black people don’t believe in education … law and order … [and] strong families. There’s just something wrong with Black people.’” Anderson flipped the script and instead emphasized “white rage,” and how white people created discriminatory structures designed to eliminate Black people’s rights. She described white rage as “invisible violence. And so I set out to make white rage visible. To basically blow graphite on white rage’s fingerprints through history.” She explained that the trigger for white rage is not the presence of Black people; instead, Black people who are ambitious, refuse to be subjugated, and demand their rights, are seen as a threat.
Anderson mentioned barriers to voting and education in Missouri for Black people, as well as racially motivated policing tactics. For example, police officers would give Black people traffic tickets for minor violations and fine them. The police increased economic burdens on working class Black people by imposing fines and requiring attendance at court dates, which meant less time to work and earn wages. If they missed their court dates, warrants for their arrest were put out, and they went to jail. Anderson stated that white people received more lenient treatment than Black people. 25 percent of the city’s budget was funded by these policing practices.
Anderson provided other historical examples of the denial of quality education for Black people, as well as racially motivated policies on crime. For instance, in 1951 in Prince Edward County, Virginia, 16 year-old Barbara Johns organized a school walk-out to demand for better schools for Black children. People threatened her life, and she was sent to Alabama for her safety.
The county shut down the public school system after the 1954 “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka” decision, arguing that technically everybody had equal access now because nobody had access. However, they offered white people publicly funded vouchers to send their children to segregated academies. It took five years of court cases to open up the public school system again, which resulted in Black children having a five year gap in their education. The lack of education for Black people put them at a disadvantage since America was transforming from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based one.
Anderson also discussed the War on Drugs and its disproportionate effects on Black people. According to the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, the incarceration rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites even though both groups use drugs at similar rates. The result is many Black people with felony convictions are at risk of losing the right to vote. A felony conviction also negatively impacts their chances of obtaining suitable education, housing, and employment. She explained how it is more expensive to imprison someone than educate them and revealed the losses people incur when the government devotes money to incarceration rather than intellectual achievement. Anderson highlighted the fact that there were over 6 million Americans who could not vote because of a felony conviction in 2018, and 1.7 million of them were in Florida alone. 40% of Black men could not vote in Florida because of a felony conviction.
After Anderson’s lecture, Professor Williams moderated a Q&A session. One of the questions touched on reasons why Anderson pursued scholarship on discrimination against African Americans. She engaged in this type of scholarship because her father “raised [her] to know that this was a nation worth fighting for'' and to intervene when injustice is happening. Anderson watched what happened in Ferguson and was compelled to respond to it because of the values her father instilled in her. Ultimately, she wants to ensure that African American history is accessible to everyone.