Though generations of civil rights activism have led to important gains in legal, political, social, employment, educational, and other spheres, our country — and our Commonwealth — has yet to break free from systems of racial injustice. 

The ACLU of Massachusetts launched the Racial Justice Program (RJP) in 2015, seeking to preserve and extend the constitutionally guaranteed rights of people of color in Massachusetts, and to rectify the state’s history of systemic racism. The ACLU of Massachusetts has long pursued racial justice in the Commonwealth, but the formalization of this program allowed us to bring a renewed focus to bear on this demanding work. 

For the first several years, the RJP contributed to statewide criminal legal reform, with a special emphasis on the roles of prosecutors and police. Through public education, legislative campaigns, and model policy development, the RJP educated voters on the importance of elected officials like district attorneys, and helped create new standards for policing and accountability. In addition, the RJP has worked directly with institutions of higher learning across the Commonwealth to encourage the implementation of a model campus policing policy to combat racial profiling and over-policing of people of color on campus. 

In addition to our criminal legal work, the RJP is committed to lifting the narratives of people of color and addressing injustices through access to democracy, voter engagement, freedom of speech, reproductive rights, and LGBTQ+ and gender equity. Race is a factor in every aspect of our lives, and all civil liberties advocacy should reflect this fact. 

The ACLU’s fight against book bans and censorship in schools and libraries illustrates the RJP’s intersectional approach to racial justice. In 2023, the ACLU of Massachusetts responded to a surge in attempts to censor books by and about marginalized people. As this fight continues, the RJP is committed to preserving the fundamental rights to speak, teach, and learn about the proud histories of Black, Indigenous and other people of color in this country — and to highlighting the harmful legacies of racial injustice in the Commonwealth and beyond.