The Carnegie Corporation of New York named Professor of African American Studies Kali Gross as an Andrew Carnegie Fellow on April 28. 

Gross was among the 26 out of the 311 nominees selected as a fellow this year, all of whom will receive a $200,000 grant to “fund significant research and writing in the social sciences and humanities that address important and enduring issues confronting our society,” the press release stated

Becoming a nominee is a rigorous process, starting with 700 individuals ranging from heads of independent research institutes to university presidents being invited to recommend up to two individuals. These recommendations then undergo a preliminary review before the top candidates are transferred to a jury for final selection. 

Kali Gross is a Professor of African American Studies whose research focuses on Black women’s experiences in the criminal justice system. (Courtesy Emory Photos)

Gross wrote in a May 4 email that she was “incredibly honored and humbled” by Emory College of Arts and Sciences’ nomination and University President Gregory Fenves’ letter. 

“I am very grateful to Emory and the Carnegie Corporation for the opportunity,” Gross wrote. “I am also so pleased, and I feel such a deep responsibility to the project. I am really eager to get started on this work.”

A scholar in Black women’s historical experiences in the U.S. criminal justice system, Gross’ current project is “Lightning She Rode: Black Women in Life, History, and Death by Electric Chair.” This research will discuss Black women’s disproportionate electric chair sentences and “will explore the electric chair’s evolution in the nation’s culture and legal system, expanding the historical record to help inform ongoing discussions about resumed federal executions and future criminal justice reform,” according to the Carnegie Corporation of New York website. 

The grant will give her the opportunity to do further archival research on capital cases in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia on electric chair sentences for Black women, Gross noted.

“Archival research is vital, not only because I can gain greater access to materials like trial transcripts, arrest records and detectives’ reports but also because I want to learn more about the context of the communities where the cases unfolded as well as the nexus of race, gender and justice,” Gross wrote. 

Gross expects the research to be complicated by a lack of firsthand experiences from the women involved in these cases. 

“I am basically piecing together evidence and information from records written by others about them, records often written from very biased perspectives; yet even this offers an important window onto the society and the inner workings of justice,” Gross wrote.

She noted that archival research can be “time consuming,” with researchers sometimes spending weeks “combing through dozens and dozens of collections to find any information at all.”

Overall, Gross stressed the importance of the research in understanding the criminalization and sentencing of Black women throughout history. 

“The work is essential because it aims to better understand how and why Black women were disproportionately executed,” Gross wrote. “By unearthing patterns and practices that contributed to this unfortunate history, we move closer to finding ways to stop these inequitable outcomes in our own time.”