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transitional justice for Jim Crow

July 20th, 2018 | 2 min read

By Matthew Loftus

Decades after the Civil Rights Act and the end of Jim Crow, it’s clear that American attempts to reckon with racial injustices have been insufficient. But what could we have done — or do — differently? Anthony Bradley has a suggestion:

Transitional justice is what we needed to pursue after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Because of the back-to-back histories of American slavery and the racial abuses of Reconstruction and Jim Crow, every state needed to implement a formal, localized, transitional justice approach. State-level transitional justice plans would allow civil society institutions to play their respective role in bringing racial peace, reconciliation, and human flourishing.

In fairness, America did attempt to redress issues with voting, housing, employment, and the like. The blind fallacy, however, was the belief that we could change a few federal laws and move on. But we moved on without addressing the need to foster peace and reconciliation between whites and blacks, especially in the South and large urban areas. We moved on without dealing with the post-traumatic stress of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. We moved on without holding people and institutions accountable for massive amounts of person-to-person and structural injustice.

Jim Crow survivors were not afforded an opportunity in the 1970s to get the mental health assistance they needed to rebuild their families. The nation focused on a few legislative changes and economic redistribution schemes, none of which were capable of providing the emotional support Jim Crow survivors needed to regain their agency as full participants and contributors to civil society.

This is an invitation for America to start over. We need to formally, on record, state by state, address Jim Crow like Germany faced the Holocaust, Northern Ireland faced The Troubles, and South Africa faced Apartheid. We need courageous leaders who are willing to go back and open the Jim Crow vault so that as a society America can actually begin the long journey toward telling the truth, enlisting our society in peace and reconciliation, and healing as our nation becomes more diverse over time. We need leaders who are willing to challenge their own constituencies to find the truth and forgive.

Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at