At the Cross: Race, Religion, and Citizenship in the Politics of the Death Penalty

ISBN : 9780190205546

Melynda J. Price
232 Pages
177 x 234 mm
Pub date
Aug 2015
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Curing systemic inequalities in the criminal justice system is the unfinished business of the Civil Rights movement. No part of that system highlights this truth more than the current implementation of the death penalty. At the Cross tells a story of the relationship between the death penalty and race in American politics that complicates the common belief that individual African Americans, especially poor African Americans, are more subject to the death penalty in criminal cases. The current death penalty regime operates quite differently than it did in the past. The findings of this research demonstrate the the racial inequity in the meting out of death sentences has legal and political externalities that move beyond individual defendants to larger numbers of African Americans. At the Cross looks at the meaning of the death penalty to and for African Americans by using various sites of analysis. Using various sites of analysis, Price shows the connection between criminal justice policies like the death penalty and the political and legal rights of African Americans who are tangentially connected to the criminal justice system through familial and social networks. Drawing on black politics, legal and political theory and narrative analysis, Price utilizes a mixed-method approach that incorporates analysis of media reports, capital jury selection and survey data, as well as original focus group data. As the rates of incarceration trend upward, Black politics scholars have focused on the impact of incarceration on the voting strength of the black community. Local, and even regional, narratives of African American politics and the death penalty expose the fractures in American democracy that foment perceptions of exclusion among blacks.


1. Can the Souls of Black Folk Be Redeemed? Race, Religion, and the Politics of Public Appeals for Salvation from the Execution Chamber
2. Performing Discretion or Performing Discrimination? Race, Ritual, and the Denial of Participatory Rights in Capital Jury Selection
3. Do Blacks Die Alone? The Role of Collective Identities in Individual African American Views of the Death Penalty
4. What We Tell Each Other: African American Folk Knowledge of the Death Penalty
5. Something Less than Equal but the Same: The Death Penalty and the Inversion of Equality in African American Deliberation of the Politics of Punishment
Conclusion: The Death Penalty and the Shared Legacy of Race
Epilogue: Troy, Trayvon, and the Trend(?) toward Abolition

About the author: 

Melynda Price is an Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law and the Director of African American and Africana Studies program Her research focuses on race, citizenship and the politics of punishment. She has a PhD in Political Science from the University of Michigan, a J.D. from the University of Texas and a B.S. in Physics from Prairie View A&M University. She is a native of Houston, Texas.

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