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Abstract

Newly emerging, transitional societies –– that is, societies that traded dictatorial or authoritarian rule for some form of open or liberal polity –– face at least three interdependent problems of what is called in legal scholarship and social science “transitional justice”: the first is how (if at all) to hold the old regime’s autocratic, often violence-laden leadership responsible for its wrongdoings while in power; the second is what (if anything) to do with thousands upon thousands of ordinary folk whose participation in, or compliance with, the old regime helped legitimate and thus perpetuate the wrongdoing; and the third task how (if at all) to deal with the victims of the old regime. By situating the American South in the global context of the need of newly democratizing societies for transitional justice, we explore how the South’s similarities with and differences from other such societies have shaped the timing and character of its peoples’ post-Jim Crow era restorative justice and racial reconciliation projects, paying particular attention to criminal trials for perpetrators of past crimes, apology, truth and reconciliation-type commissions, and memorialization. We then document the extent of racial inequalities in employment, income, poverty status, and morbidity and mortality, arguing both that past racial injustices result in contemporary racial inequalities and that restorative justice points forward in time--and thus must deal with current inequities –– as well as backward.