Historian Dr. Charles Dew Declares AISJ a
Vanguard of Change
Alabama Institute for Social Justice
Written by
Lenice C. Emanuel, MLA
Executive Director
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Knowledge is Power
Knowledge is Power is a blog by the Alabama Institute for Social Justice offering information, stories, and thoughts to inspire, educate, and empower.
AISJ Mission
To engage Alabamians by mobilizing communities, setting and acting upon a racial equity and social justice policy agenda, and creating peace through racial reconciliation and healing.
"Racism had been transmitted like a genetic trait."
-Dr. Charles Dew
On June 14, 2018, Dr. Charles Dew, author of “The Making of a Racist,” declared AISJ a vanguard of change that can create a ripple throughout the country. During Dr. Dew’s presentation at AISJ’s Racial Healing and Reconciliation community learning forum, held at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL, he commended the work of AISJ in fostering environments that are open, honest, and have tough, but necessary expressions of the South’s history.
Dew is a self-described “confederate youth” whose life was transformed through education, friendship, and a slave price list. He teaches about the Civil War and Reconstruction, the history of the South, and American history at his alma mater, Williams College in Massachusetts. It was there the then 17-year-old Dew found himself in an awkward situation. He was telling a racist joke to a white student when he realized that a black student may have overheard him speaking in an offensive dialect. Fearing that he had humiliated his black classmate, Dew approached the young man, introduced himself, and for the first time in his life shook the hand of someone on the other side of the color line. Dew’s friendship with that student, Ted, was the beginning of what changed him from being a racist to someone that he hopes is better. 
Racism was something absorbed by osmosis from his hard-working father and his compassionate, Christian mother while growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s in St. Petersburg, FL. The racist behavior he absorbed in his childhood was mostly through observation. The message of how whites and blacks were treated differently was illustrated through separations. Separate bathrooms, entrances into buildings, different dishes, and language. Dew noticed as a child that he was not required to call colored adults "mister" or "missus," nor did he ever refer to them by their last names.
One prominent incident that stood out to Dew happened during his freshman year as he was riding a train home for the holidays. A waiter did something Dew had always seen, but after befriending Ted it was as though he saw this for the first time. The waiter drew a large, green curtain that indicated the Jim Crow section. When Dew realized that his newfound friend Ted would have had to sit on the other side of the curtain, he realized something was wrong.  
Dr. Dew shared that he is the direct ancestor of the person who crafted the first foundational defense of the institution of slavery in 1832. Thomas Roderick Dew was the President of the College of William and Mary. His document became the building block for every intellectual defense that emerged in the three decades leading up to the Civil War. Dr. Dew shook his fist asking the question, “How could good Christian men have done this?” The price-list prompted him to read every document pertaining to the Richmond slave traders he could get his hands on. That process, which was both “dismal and depressing,” resulted in him publishing a book of his own, which is a blend of autobiography and history. He admitted that in the same way his ancestors had been complicit, he had been no different during the Jim Crow South and the Civil Rights era. 
An example of this odd blend of autobiography and history is his book cover...an image of him as a toddler. This was his earliest memory. He recalled sitting on his mother’s lap, as she read a profoundly racist book to him. Dr. Drew read an excerpt from the book in a thick Southern dialect of broken English that included jingles and a hymn, just as his mother once read. The illustrations were stick figures with black faces and grins. He apologized to the crowd for the offensive content. One of the most memorable moments within Dr. Dew’s talk was his sharing the story of a question posed by his African American, childhood housekeeper, Mrs. Illinois. After experiencing life beyond the Jim Crow South, he gradually started initiating conversations about the injustices he had formerly absorbed and accepted, and one day with tear-filled eyes, Mrs. Illinois asked, “Why do the white folks put so much hate in the children?” 
During his visit, AISJ was proud to take Dr. Dew on a visit of Montgomery's historic and iconic Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. He stated that he was both emotionally and physically overwhelmed after viewing local Equal Justice Initiative sites. “This is a remarkable city,” he stated, as he described Montgomery’s presentation of history. He likened himself unto a dwarf walking in the shadows of giants in Montgomery. Dr. Dew closed out his talk by encouraging the crowd to get rid of stereotypes and to break the genetic chain that’s been the bane of the south’s existence. He also warned of the need to remove pernicious and corrosive mindsets and to stop supporting politicians who play the race card. Lastly, he reiterated that we as individuals, and collectively, can make a difference, if we will each refuse to sit by silently in the face of injustices. Dr. Dew’s talk was an invitation for us all to become apostles of truth and justice. 
Check out more photos from the evening here.
To learn more about AISJ, visit us online at www.ALISJ.org