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Slaves of the State

Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration from the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary

Dennis Childs
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Slaves of the State
    Book Description:

    The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, passed in 1865, has long been viewed as a definitive break with the nation's past by abolishing slavery and ushering in an inexorable march toward black freedom.Slaves of the Statepresents a stunning counterhistory to this linear narrative of racial, social, and legal progress in America.

    Dennis Childs argues that the incarceration of black people and other historically repressed groups in chain gangs, peon camps, prison plantations, and penitentiaries represents a ghostly perpetuation of chattel slavery. He exposes how the Thirteenth Amendment's exception clause-allowing for enslavement as "punishment for a crime"-has inaugurated forms of racial capitalist misogynist incarceration that serve as haunting returns of conditions Africans endured in the barracoons and slave ship holds of the Middle Passage, on plantations, and in chattel slavery.

    Childs seeks out the historically muted voices of those entombed within terrorizing spaces such as the chain gang rolling cage and the modern solitary confinement cell, engaging the writings of Toni Morrison and Chester Himes as well as a broad range of archival materials, including landmark court cases, prison songs, and testimonies, reaching back to the birth of modern slave plantations such as Louisiana's "Angola" penitentiary.

    Slaves of the Statepaves the way for a new understanding of chattel slavery as a continuing social reality of U.S. empire-one resting at the very foundation of today's prison industrial complex that now holds more than 2.3 million people within the country's jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4377-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. INTRODUCTION. “Inhuman Punishment”: The (Un)dead Book of Chattel Carcerality
    (pp. 1-24)

    This book represents my attempt at answering a call I first heard many years ago as a graduate student living in Oakland, California—one emitting from an article by Angela Davis entitled “Racialized Punishment and Prison Abolition.” The radical, counter-historical directive I received from this piece is crystallized most succinctly at a moment in which Davis distinguishes her neo-abolitionist encounter with the U.S. carceral state from that of Michel Foucault on the basis of the culturally and legally crafted “soulless” character of the captive “Negro”:

    If, as Foucault suggests, the locus of the new European mode of punishment shifted from...

  4. CHAPTER 1 “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”: Beloved and the Middle Passage Carceral Model
    (pp. 25-56)

    In November 1994, as the number of prisoners in the United States was about to reach 1.6 million,¹ the North Carolina Department of Correction (DOC) issued a press release announcing that it had unearthed a relic of America’s carceral past at one of its facilities. The release read in part: “[The] Community Resource Council for the Alexander Correctional Center arranged for the National Guard to forklift the cage out of the mud and vines. The original three-inch concrete floor, a small toilet and braided metal bars are all that remain of the prison cage where 12 convicts slept.”² The news...

  5. CHAPTER 2 “Except as Punishment for a Crime”: The Thirteenth Amendment and the Rebirth of Chattel Imprisonment
    (pp. 57-92)

    Anyone perusing the advertisements section of local newspapers such as theAnnapolis Gazettein Maryland, during December 1866, would have come across the following notices:

    Public Sale—The undersigned will sell at the Court House Door in the city of Annapolis at 12 o’clock M., on Saturday 8th December, 1866, A Negro man named Richard Harris, for six months, convicted at the October term, 1866, of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court for larceny and sentenced by the court to be sold as a slave.

    Terms of sale—cash.

    WM. Bryan,

    Sheriff Anne Arundel County.

    Dec. 8, 1866

    Public Sale—...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Angola Penitentiary: The Once and Future Slave Plantation
    (pp. 93-140)

    John McElroy is unknown to history. His name does not register among the ranks of black liberation fighters, musicians, and athletes whose images filled places like my college dormitory room in the early 1990s—when, like many of my peers in California’s pre-209 era,¹ I placed posters of those such as Malcolm X, Billie Holiday, and The Coup on my walls, jigsaw style, in order to assert a budding political and social consciousness and to counter the historical erasure that barred even the icons of black political and artistic life from any serious consideration within U.S. mass media and educational...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Warfare of Northern Neoslavery in Chester Himes’s Yesterday Will Make You Cry
    (pp. 141-174)

    In the climactic scene ofYesterday Will Make You Cry(1998), Chester Himes offers a horrifying account of a prison fire that takes place at the Ohio State Penitentiary in 1930. Describing the scene as “a page torn from Dante’s inferno,” the narrator offers remembrance of the fire through the eyes of the novel’s protagonist, Jimmy Monroe, who runs into the prison yard in a state of shock as hundreds of charred bodies are being carried out of the “Idle House” cell block by his fellow prisoners: “And he was running … across the yard, with a high-stepping sense of...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 175-178)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 179-246)
  10. Index
    (pp. 247-260)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-261)