Randall Kennedy

Randall Kennedy has been a contributing editor of the Prospect since 1995. He is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University. His several books include The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.

Recent Articles

The Courage to Defy Brutality

The case of a black Army veteran that spurred a South Carolina federal judge to defy his state's white supremacist power structure

Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring Richard Gergel Farrar, Straus, and Giroux This article is a preview of the Spring 2019 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here. Racially motivated police brutality daily affronts us in two dimensions. First there are the episodes in which police deploy more force against racial minorities than they would have deployed against similarly situated whites. Second are the episodes in which the legal system wrongly absolves police of criminal culpability for racially discriminatory wrongdoing even in that small fraction of cases in which there is an investigation. Black Lives Matter and related protests have focused much-needed attention on this long-standing scandal. But progress is difficult to attain. Perhaps some forward motion can be generated by more fully educating the public about our history of racially motivated police violence...

Martin Luther King Jr.: The Prophet as Healer

Whether by example or by strategy, Dr. King always looked for opportunities to build bridges.

AP Photo/Charles Harrity
This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . In August 1967, in a sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr. observed that he and the congregation were living in “evil times.” His remark was brutally punctuated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, when King was assassinated. What should we focus upon in marking the 50th anniversary of this somber landmark? I suggest three things: the particulars of King’s achievements as a liberal dissident; the trying circumstances he faced at the end of his life; and the virtues of his principal strategy and aim—coalition politics in the service of a decent, egalitarian, multiracial society. King was a great man—not a pseudo-hero but the genuine article, one of the most remarkable dissidents in American, indeed world, history. He was at the forefront of three campaigns that defined the most consequential achievements of the...

The Forgotten Origins of the Constitution on Campus

Foes of hateful speech should remember how free expression was protected on campus in the first place—through the civil rights movement.

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This article appears in the Winter 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Recent conflicts on campus have featured as antagonists proponents of racial justice versus proponents of civil liberties. Many in both camps identify as liberals. A dose of recollection might help dissipate this avoidable and politically destructive strife. We should recall that in order to more militantly battle Jim Crow segregation, black high school and college student activists in the Deep South brought the federal Constitution to campus. They initiated the lawsuits that prompted judges to recognize that students at public schools are entitled to federal constitutional rights to due process and free speech. In the history of anti-racism, their demands were not atypical. Ardent champions of racial justice have typically been ardent champions of civil liberties. The Second Reconstruction of the 1960s, for example, prompted not only the emergence of law aimed at undoing racial hierarchy...

Despair Is Not an Option

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
This article is a preview of the Fall 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Devotees of racial justice continue to be appalled by the Trump administration. Heather Heyer, the anti-racist demonstrator murdered in Charlottesville, was right: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” A great many Americans, especially African Americans, are in a mood of despair upon witnessing a president of the United States winking at neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klansmen, and doing everything in his power to expunge the achievements of his predecessor, a man who came to be known less for his race than for his decency, dignity, and honor. Yet despair is not an option. And in fact, good people of all races are putting their anger to good use through activism on the ground. Sometimes, though, their efforts are taken for granted and receive too little praise even within their own camp. Far too little notice, for example, was given...

State-Enforced Segregation and the Color of Justice

Jim Crow was the descendant of Southern slavery. More shocking is the legacy of government-enforced racism in the North.  

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The Color of Law: The Forgotten Story of How Our Government Segregated America By Richard Rothstein Liverlight This article appears in the Summer 2017 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Government action consigning African Americans to separate and inferior housing has damaged not only their prospects for residential accommodations; it has also harmed their prospects for financial accumulation, access to employment, educational advancement, and social acceptance. The housing crises imposed upon blacks by government and other forces have been studied and explained by commentators for decades with a sobering repetitiveness. In 1967, the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission) famously declared that “[w]hat white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain...

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