River Valley Martin Luther King Jr. Day Observance
A Look at the New Slavery
Nestic Morris, left, was guest speaker during the
annual River Valley observance January 26, of
Martin Luther King Day at the Spring Green
Elementary School library. She is pictured with
her mother, Earsie Green. Morris, 34, is outreach
coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against
Sexual Assault (WCASA). A third generation
Madison resident, Morris’s talk was titled “Still
In Chains: How Slavery Never Left – It Evolved.”
The event was free and open to the public.

R
efreshments were served.  (Photo by David
Giffey)
By David Giffey

SPRING GREEN - Nestic Morris, guest speaker at River
Valley’s annual Martin Luther King Day observance in
Spring Green on January 26, gave a careful and credible
critique of Wisconsin’s private and public prison industry
and the heavy toll taken on African Americans who make
up 43 percent of the state’s prison population from
among only 6.2 percent of the population. She asked
listeners to “…confront your biases and prejudices,”
follow the lead of Black people in many areas, and speak
out “against injustices that are happening right here.”

Morris, age 34, asked about 20 people in the elementary
school library, to examine and to set aside the traditions
of white supremacy, which have persevered in the U.S.
She traced those traditions from the invasion of Africa,
through slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow laws, the war on
drugs, to present-day mass incarcerations of Black
citizens, and a school-to-prison pipeline.

“I am speaking of institutional policies that are all about
punishment and not rehabilitation,” said Morris, who
works as outreach coordinator for the Wisconsin
Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

“What I say does not reflect the views of my agency,”
Morris said as a disclaimer. She also disclaimed being
an activist because, “I am just demanding basic human
rights for all people. Being a person that believes in
human rights doesn’t make me an activist.”

As an advocate for human rights, women of color, Black
children and prisoners, Morris presented an intelligent
and non-threatening message representing both her
youthfulness and the Black community. She grew up on
Madison’s South Side, graduated from West High School

Referring also to history, Morris linked slave masters with today’s prison wardens and guards. “I am fully aware that prison guards and police officers…are most
likely wonderful people outside of prison walls. But I am speaking of institutional policies that are all about punishment and not rehabilitation. We can’t physically
beat you with whips, but we can and will break you down mentally” through such practices as solitary confinement.

Some prisons are referred to as the “big house,” Morris said. “This is the same term slaves used to describe the Master’s house on the plantation.” Many
imprisoned men in Wisconsin grow up in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Many of them will not be housed close enough for their family to visit. Some men do not
get a visit from a family member their entire sentence.” Forcing prisoners into shackled “chain gangs” in the U.S. she compared to slavery when “Black men were
once chained to other Black men…on the way to an unknown land….

“Now there is a generation of Black women who are sitting in court rooms as we watch judges hand down harsher prison sentences,” Morris said. “Children are
being affected” resulting in trauma among African Americans.

“Wisconsin cannot be satisfied with little white boys and little Black boys going to the same schools, and receiving two totally different educations,” Morris said.
“One, an education, and the other, prison.” She ended by saying: “We take an entire day off to reflect and celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King. It was
his dream that his legacy be one justice for all. So, I ask you, what will be the legacy you leave?”
and UW-Whitewater, and hails from a family whose roots in Madison date back three generations. Her mother,
Earsie Green, also of Madison, accompanied Morris on the drive to Spring Green on an extremely cold day.

The annual MLK observance began in the River Valley during the 1990s to enable residents to share and
discuss Dr. King’s legacy. It’s scheduled each year for the first Saturday after the national King holiday on
January 21. In addition to Nestic Morris, programs have included notable speakers such as Pastor and Circuit
Court Judge Everett Mitchell, journalist and Editor Matt Rothschild, and UW School for Workers Professor
Armando Ibarra.

Morris invited listeners to “receive this message” openly and respectfully, referring to a line by the late author
James Baldwin: “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my
oppression and the denial of my humanity and right to exist [as a woman of color].”

Morris quoted Martin Luther King’s renowned letter from a Birmingham, Alabama, jail: “It is…unfortunate that
the city’s white power structure left the Negro with no alternative” but to organize massive demonstrations for
equality.

Listeners were asked to keep MLK’s words in mind “the next time you hear, or roll your eyes, about ‘another
Black Lives Matter’ protest. Black Lives Matter protesters are not saying that Black lives matter more…nor
that blue [police] lives don’t matter,” the speaker said. “They are simply asking for their lives and other Black
lives to matter. They are not seeking revenge, but just asking to matter. They are seeking the basic human
rights that their ancestors’ grandparents did not receive during slavery, and for the civil rights that their
grandparents did
not get. Slavery never left,” Morris said referring to the title of her talk. “It just evolved.”
Wisconsin’s rate of locking up Black men in the state’s 37 adult prisons and 72 county jails is
third highest in the world, said Morris. “Come on vacation, leave on probation,” is a “sad saying
around the Black community.” While Black prisoners may work at skilled trades for tiny wages,
they often return to society to be denied those same jobs due to their “criminal background.”

Quoting the Wisconsin Department of Corrections’ Division of Adult Institutions, Morris cited
“astronomical” charges paid by prisoners for telephone calls as they are moved around the state
from prison to prison. She cited a private prison agency, which she said received payments of
$375 million between 2012 and 2014.
According to a report in rollingout.com, “The private prison industry is seeking out cash-strapped
states,” Morris related. “States are required to keep prisons at a certain percentage of capacity.”
As a result, “States are building prisons based on young Black boys 4th and 7th grade test
scores. Standardized testing. Society and institutions have gotten together and given up on young
Black boys at the age of 10…similar to a time in slavery, it is a well-oiled machine that is making
Wisconsin millions, if not billions, of dollars.”