Geoff Ward

Geoff K. Ward

Professor of African and African-American Studies
Faculty Affiliate in Sociology and American Culture Studies

Director, WashU & Slavery Project, Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity
PHD, Sociology, University of Michigan
BA, Sociology, Hampton University
research interests:
  • Legacies of Racial Violence
  • Representative Social Control
  • Youth Justice
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    contact info:

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • Campus Box 1109-0137-02
    • One Brookings Drive
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
    image of book cover

    Geoff Ward’s scholarship examines the haunting legacies of historical racial violence and implications for redress.

    Geoff Ward is Professor of African and African-American Studies and faculty affiliate in the Department of Sociology and American Culture Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis. His scholarship examines the racial politics of social control and the pursuit of racial justice, historically and today, and has been supported by fellowships and grants from institutions including the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Justice, the Ford Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. In addition to numerous research articles and essays, he is the author of The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2012), an award-winning book on the rise, fall, and haunting remnants of Jim Crow juvenile justice. 

    Current projects focus on broader histories of racist violence, their legacies, and implications for repair. Committed to a publicly-engaged and collaborative academic practice, he combines traditional scholarship with organizing and creative work including exhibitions and digital projects to engage broader audiences, innovate teaching, and facilitate the visibility, use and impact of scholarly work. Ward is director of the WashU & Slavery Project, an initiative of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity (CRE2) in partnership with the consortium of Universities Studying Slavery. He also serves on the advisory board for Monument Lab’s National Monument Audit, and is a member of the Mayor's Commemorative Landscape Taskforce in Clayton, MO, and the Reparative Justice Coalition of St. Louis, a network of volunteers working with Equal Justice Initiative and other partners to address legacies of racist violence in our region.

    Recent publications:

    Legacies of Racial Violence: Clarifying and Addressing the Presence of the Past

    Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science. v. 694 March 2021

    Special editors:
    David Cunningham, Hedy Lee, and Geoff Ward

    Table of Contents
    Full Issue 

    Cover image: The "Old Jail" in St. Louis where, in 1836, a free black man named Francis McIntosh was abducted and lynched by a white mob, whose crimes went unpunished. The editors are working with the Reparative Justice Coalition of St. Louis to commemorate and address legacies of this grave injustice.

    Other recent articles:

    • Gaby, S., D. Cunningham, H. Lee, G. Ward, and A. Jackson (2021). "Exculpating Injustice: Coroner Constructions of White Innocence in the Postbellum South." Socius 7 LINK
    • Doering, Z. (2020). “From This Moment: Museum Futures. Conversations with Tom Freudenheim, Anika Walke, and Geoff Ward.” Journal of Cultural Management and Cultural Policy 6(2): Museum-Politics-Management: 9-23. LINK
    • Ward, G., N. Petersen, A. Kupchik, and J. Pratt (2019). "Historic Lynching and Corporal Punishment in Contemporary Southern Schools." Social Problems LINK
    • Cunningham, David, G. Ward and P. Owens (2019). "Configuring Political Repression: Anti-Civil Rights Enforcement in Mississippi." Mobilization: An International Quarterly LINK
    • Pérez, R. and Ward, G. (2019). "From Insult to Estrangement and Injury: The Violence of Racist Police Jokes." American Behavioral Scientist, 0002764219842617. LINK
    • Ward, G. (2018). "Living Histories of White Supremacist Policing," Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 15(1). LINK
    • Ward, G. and P. Hanink (2017). "Deliberating Racial Justice: Towards Racially Democratic Crime Control." In J. Jackson and J. Jacobs (eds.), Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics. New York: Routledge. LINK
    • Ward, G. (2016). "Microclimates of Racial Meaning: Historical Racial Violence and Environmental Impacts." Wisconsin Law Review, 575. LINK

    For more about research in these and other areas visit my personal website. To access research articles visit my page on

    Creative projects:

    In addition to traditional scholarly research and writing, I use creative and digital projects to support this scholarship, engage broader audiences, and facilitate the visibility, use and impact of this work. 

    • Monumental Anti-Racisma StoryMap exploring the racial politics of public memory, and highlighting global practices and student proposals centering anti-racist commemorative intervention;
    • The Racial Violence Archive, a digital resource for research, teaching, and engagement focusing on histories of racial violence and their legacies today; 
    • Truths and Reckonings: The Art of Transformative Racial Justice, an exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and John M. Olin Library at Washington University (Spring 2020 and online);
    • Black Memory Worka StoryMap and podcast supporting the Spring 2020 Senior Seminar and Capstone in the Department of African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

    recent courses

    Monumental Antiracism

    This course examines the contentious racial politics of commemorative objects and practices, and theoretical and practical aspects of commemorative work as a strategy of anti-racism, through close readings of relevant texts, case studies, and a practicum component involving collaborative development of a memorial archive and student-led memorial design projects.

    Juvenile Justice in the Black Experience

    This course examines the socio-legal past, present, and future of American juvenile justice, with a focus on the black experience. The course is organized in three parts. Part I surveys the late 19th and early 20th century development of the "parental state," its institutional centerpiece (the juvenile court), and principle legal subjects ("dependents" and "delinquents"), as these took shape alongside the contemporaneous rise of 20th century American Apartheid (i.e., Jim Crow). Part II examines key changes and challenges in contemporary juvenile justice, centering transformations of this institution in the wake of the black freedom movement, and remnants of Jim Crow juvenile justice in the post-Civil Rights Movement period. Finally, Part III considers possible futures of youth justice, and practical strategies for achieving equal protection within and beyond law.

      Histories of Racial Violence, Legacies, and Reckonings

      This course examines legacies of historical racial violence and contemporary reckoning efforts, with emphasis on the African American experience. The course combines seminar readings, discussion and academic writing on legacies of racial violence with a practicum component, where individual students and groups of students and faculty conceptualize and develop projects intended to clarify and disrupt legacies of racial violence, facilitating contemporary reckoning. The seminar and practicum explores and encourages a broad range of remedial efforts, including public policy measures, original research, archival development, commemorative efforts, and a related array of mediums, including visual art, design, film, digital projects, and other creative interventions.

        Memory for the Future

        Co-taught with Prof. Anika Walke (History), and supported through the RDE initiative in the Center for Humanities, this course leverages the concepts of multidirectional memory and reparative curatorial practice to develop new forms of humanities education and practical public history. This concept emphasizes the productivity of commemorating different, yet related histories of systematic violence such as the Holocaust, slavery, apartheid, genocide, and colonialism if/when they confront each other in the public sphere. The objectives are to conceptualize, design and create spaces and practices of education, commemoration, and collaboration that rest on a dialogue between collectives impacted and implicated by these varied but related histories. Focusing on commemorative efforts through public memorials, monuments and especially museums, M4F blends classroom-based instruction (engaging related scholarship and acquiring practical and curatorial skills) with a practicum where students and faculty work with area institutions and local groups to apply reparative curatorial practices. Partners include the George B. Vashon and Griot Museums, the Reparative Justice Coalition of St. Louis, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, and others.

          The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice

          The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice

          The Black Child Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2012) provides the first in-depth historical account of the racial politics of American juvenile justice, examining the rise, fall, and lasting remnants of Jim Crow juvenile justice (ca. 1890-2000). The study traces ordeals of racial oppression and domination in juvenile justice – an imagined “citizen-building” institution – to embattled 20th century racial politics of American liberal democracy, while emphasizing the resistance of generations of black civic leaders.  The result is a more complex and dynamic view of how varied racial projects formed and functioned to not only diminish but also affirm the democratic standing of black youth and communities in this context of racialized social control. Theoretically, the project challenges conventional views of racialized social control which frame nonwhites as passive, subjugated populations, revealing the contentious nature of these relations, and the ability for less powerful groups to impose their interests within processes of social control. In terms of public policy, the book illustrates how redistributive remedies rooted in colorblind racial ideology have undermined gains in racial and ethnic group recognition, limiting the relevance of formal integration to substantive inclusion. 

          Winner of the Michael J. Hindelang Book Award of the American Society of Criminology, 2013

          Winner of the Outstanding Book Prize of the History of Education Society, 2013