Cashin, Sheryll

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Sheryll Cashin


Law professor, author

Sheryll Cashin has become a prominent advocate for closing the racial and class divisions in America. Cashin's 2004 book, The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream, received widespread attention for its revelations of the growing divisions within American society. A professor at Georgetown University Law Center and former White House advisor, Cashin wrote in her introduction: "I come to this as a scholar but also as a black woman who values black institutions and communities even as I advocate for race and class integration."

Raised in an Activist Family

Born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, Sheryll D. Cashin was the daughter of Dr. John L. Cashin, Jr., and Joan Carpenter Cashin. Her father founded the National Democratic Party of Alabama and ran against the segregationist George Wallace in the 1970 Alabama gubernatorial election. Cashin's childhood experiences foreshadowed her future interest in racial integration. Cashin's family moved from their middle-class black neighborhood to an all-white neighborhood so that her brother could attend Huntsville's only elementary school with a program for the hearing impaired. However a few years later, for financial reasons, the Cashins returned to their home in the black neighborhood. There Cashin found "a happier, more supportive social environment" she recalled in The Failures of Integration.

Cashin told Jon Christensen of Grist in March of 2006: "My parents were activists, but also members of the Unitarian church, although both became Baptists later. I grew up in a household where the most fascinating people would come through. My parents lived a very diverse life, with friends from a lot of different realms. They modeled for me how they wanted to be in the world. These were two people with very strong black identities. They wanted me to value who I was as a black person and value black institutions, but also not cut myself off from exciting, interesting things." Cashin wrote in Failures that she "mastered the fundamentals of both black and mainstream culture in a way that enabled me to relate to many different social groups."

After graduating summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University in 1984, Cashin studied English law at St. Catherine's College, Oxford University, earning her master's degree with honors in 1986. She graduated with honors from Harvard Law School in 1989.

Joined the Clinton Administration

Cashin became a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had successfully argued for school desegregation before the 1954 Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. She wrote of Marshall in Failures: "In his chambers he worried aloud about what he would say to a poor black kid about his life chances, given the schools and neighborhoods such kids were relegated to."

Cashin went on to clerk for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and was an associate at the law firm of Sirote & Permutt before joining the administration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. As director of community development for the National Economic Council, she oversaw urban policy and community development initiatives and advised on community development in inner-city neighborhoods. As staff director for the Community Empowerment Board in the Office of Vice President Al Gore, Cashin worked on community-based revitalization strategies for urban and rural communities. A then-single woman, she bought a bungalow in Shepherd Park, an integrated but majority-black upper-middle-class neighborhood in Washington.

Frustrated by her inability to address issues of social injustice within the administration, Cashin left public service in 1997 and joined the faculty at Georgetown. She began researching the social and economic costs and consequences of racial segregation in urban and suburban America. Her analysis of census and school enrollment data revealed that the communities and schools of America remained segregated and unequal.

Published Failures of Integration

Aimed at a lay audience, The Failures of Integration was well-received. It was a New York Times Book Review editor's choice selection for three weeks. Cashin argued that "Integration is critical for the enduring strength of our democracy," as well as true equality of opportunity. Whites as well as blacks were hurt by segregation, as they struggled to pay for more expensive housing in all-white neighborhoods, enduring long commutes and diminished quality of life.

Cashin enumerated the numerous causes and consequences of continued racial and class segregation. At the Minnesota Meeting in September of 2006, Cashin explained: "Where you live determines whether you are going to be exposed to a host of models of success, what kind of schools you will go to, and whether you're going to have employment opportunities. And in America, in 2006, where a person lives is heavily influenced by race and class…. It was only after seven decades of very intentional public policies that we got to the point where separation by race and class seems like what is natural." But it was not only public policies that discouraged integration. Blacks, Cashin wrote, "have become integration weary."

Cashin called on civil rights activists to address discrimination in housing. She advocated breaking up inner-city ghettos with suburban housing vouchers, home-ownership incentives in high-poverty neighborhoods, requirements for low-income housing in new developments, and the promotion of school choice, including charter schools designed by blacks for blacks. In particular, she pointed to the need for regional solutions to the problems of metropolitan areas.

In addition to her teaching and writing, Cashin made frequent appearances as a radio and television commentator. She wrote in the Washington Post in 2004: "I am a champion of a transformative integration of the races and classes because I have become convinced that it is the only route to closing the egregious gaps of inequality that weaken our nation. I can acknowledge the benefits of a minority enclave and still hope to see the day when there will be less need for such a psychic haven. I dare to believe that America could be a society premised upon brotherly love and inclusion, rather than fear and exclusion."

At a Glance …

Born Sheryll D. Cashin in 1962(?) in Huntsville, AL; married Marque Chambliss, 2003(?); children: twin sons. Education: Vanderbilt University, BE, electrical engineering, 1984; Oxford University, MA, English law, 1986; Harvard University, JD, 1989. Politics: Progressive Democrat.

Career: U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, DC, clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1990-91; U.S. Court of Appeals,Washington, DC, clerk to Judge Abner Mikva; Sirote & Permutt, P.C., Washington, DC, associate; The White House, Washington, DC, Office of Transition Counsel, associate counsel, National Economic Council, Director for Community Development, 1993-95; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, DC, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Empowerment Zones assigned to Vice President Al Gore, 1995-96; Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, professor of law, 1997-; author, 2004-.

Memberships: Vanderbilt University, trustee, Public and Government Relations Committee, Academic Programs Committee chair.

Awards: Marshall Scholar at Oxford University; Harvard Law Review.

Addresses: Office—Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Cashin told Contemporary Authors that The Failures of Integration "was written out of passion, or anger rather…. I was angry mostly about the raw deal many minority poor kids receive through no fault of their own. I decided to channel five years of academic research on the subject into a book for lay audiences. In the process, I found a voice as a writer and am now committed to the writing life." True to her word, in October of 2007 Cashin published a memoir of her extraordinary family.

Selected writings


The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining the American Dream, Public Affairs, 2004.

"Katrina: The American Dilemma Redux," in After the Storm: Black Intellectuals Explore the Meaning of Hurricane Katrina, David Dante Troutt, ed., New Press, 2006.

The Agitator's Daughter: Four Generations of One Extraordinary African-American Family, Public Affairs, 2007.


"Federalism, Welfare Reform, and the Minority Poor: Accounting for the Tyranny of State Majorities," Columbia Law Review, Vol. 99, No. 3, April 1, 1999, p. 552.

"Privatized Communities and the ‘Secession of the Successful’: Democracy and Fairness Beyond the Gate," Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. 28, No. 5, June 1, 2001, pp. 1675-1692.

"The American Dilemma Continues," Education Week, Vol. 23, No. 37, May 19, 2004, pp. 40-41.

"American Public Schools Fifty Years after Brown: A Separate and Unequal Reality," Howard Law Journal, Vol. 47, 2004, pp. 341-360.

"Race, Class and Real Estate: What We'll Get from Mixing It Up,"Washington Post, August 1, 2004, p. B2.

"The Dilemma of the Black Middle Class," Next American City, November, 2005, pp. 31-35.

"Democracy, Race, and Multiculturalism in the Twenty-First Century: Will the Voting Rights Act Ever be Obsolete?" Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 22, 2006, pp. 71-105.


"A Tale of Two Schools," May 13, 2004, AlterNet, (June 29, 2007).



Washington Post, November 10, 2004, p. B1.


"Building an Integrated Society: A Community Conversation," Minnesota Meeting, (August 12, 2007).

"Integrate Expectations: An Interview with Integration Advocate Sheryll Cashin," March 21, 2006, Grist, (August 12, 2007).

"Sheryll Cashin," Contemporary Authors Online, (August 12, 2007).

"Sheryll D. Cashin," Georgetown Law, (August 12, 2007).


"Interview: Sheryll Cashin Discusses Her New Book The Failures of Integration" (Transcript), National Public Radio: All Things Considered, May 5, 2004.