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About this book

James Campbell provides an in-depth survey of crime, punishment and justice in African American history. Presenting cutting-edge scholarship on issues of criminal justice in African American history in an accessible way for students, he makes connections between black experiences of criminal justice and violence from the slave era to the present.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
In February 2012, the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, catapulted issues of race, crime, and punishment to the forefront of the American political and news agenda. Returning home from a 7-Eleven store, the African American teenager was followed and shot dead outside a gated community by George Zimmerman, a white, volunteer neighborhood watch captain of Latino descent who claimed he acted in self-defense. The Sanford police agreed. Following a cursory investigation, no arrests were made and the killing was quickly ruled a justifiable homicide. Within weeks, however, protests against the police handling of the caseled by Martin’s family and joined by hundreds of thousands of supporters-swept across the nation. The Sanford police chief was suspended, the investigation reopened, and Zimmerman eventually arrested and charged with second-degree murder. At the time of writing, George Zimmerman is yet to stand trial, but the name of Trayvon Martin is already enshrined in the long history of African American crime and punishment. Indeed, the national and international prominence of the case is partly a consequence of the many ways that it resonates with that history.
James Campbell

Slavery to Freedom

Frontmatter

1. The Slaveholders’ Rule

Abstract
On Highland Plantation in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, Bennett H. Barrow was the law. Owner of more than 200 slaves in the midnineteenth century, Barrow punished his human property with abandon. Some days Barrow whipped all of his cotton pickers for shirking work, other times he had “a general whipping frolic” for no particular reason. He thrashed slaves for stealing, including two house servants who broke into his storehouse and were whipped “worse than I ever whipped any one before.” Eight or ten slaves who stole some hogs were ducked before they were beaten. When the slave Demps hit his wife Hetty and locked her up, Barrow intervened, “turning her loose and fastening him.” He whipped Dave and Jack for their “rascality” and planned to chain them at nights and on Sundays “till I think they are broke in.” Later he built a jail, where he imprisoned Darcas for, “pretending to be sick, repeatedly,” and some slaves who were bad mannered when he gave them a dinner in his ballroom.
James Campbell

2. Slavery and the Criminal Law

Abstract
In 1800, following an audacious but doomed slave conspiracy near the city of Richmond, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, then Vice-President of the United States, debated the rebels’ fate with his good friend, Virginia governor James Monroe. At the head of the conspiracy was Gabriel, a skilled blacksmith owned by local planter Thomas Prosser. Like many slaves in the region, Gabriel was hired out to work in Richmond where he lived with some autonomy and was exposed to the political debates about freedom and equality that dominated national politics at the time. Inspired by religious faith, the revolutionary rhetoric of the age, the ongoing slave rebellion in St. Domingue, that would lead to the founding of Haiti as the world’s first black republic four years later, and intense divisions of class and party politics among white Virginians, Gabriel led as many as 1000 African Americans, enslaved and free, in plotting to seize control of Richmond, secure their own freedom, and spark further revolt across the region.
James Campbell

3. Reconstruction

Abstract
On September 22, 1865, several months after the Confederacy had lost the Civil War, a state convention in Alabama resolved that “hereafter there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this State.” 1 Five days later, Burt, formerly a slave, but now a free man, was convicted in an Alabama court of murder in the first degree for killing a white man. Burt was sentenced to hang and his execution set for November, but he won a reprieve. With regret, the state Supreme Court overruled the conviction and discharged Burt from custody. Though the court did not doubt that Burt was guilty, the statute “providing for the punishment of slaves for murder” had been repealed with the abolition of slavery and neither the indictment nor the conviction could stand. “The discharge of the prisoner is one of the evils resulting from the war,” one justice noted, though he added ruefully that it was, “not by any means the greatest that has been brought about by that calamity.” The abolition of slavery enabled other black prisoners who had been tried and convicted as slaves to escape the hangman’s noose. At its January term in 1866, the Alabama Supreme Court discharged George, convicted of assault and battery with intent to rob, and Nelson, convicted of murdering a slave.2
James Campbell

Jim Crow Justice

Frontmatter

4. The Southern Penal System

Abstract
In the early-twentieth century, reports of a new form of slavery began to emanate from the Deep South. An autobiographical account published in 1904 of the life of a young black man held in debt peonage in Georgia revealed a system of almost unspeakable injustice and barbarity. Orphaned and hired out by his uncle to work for a prominent white landowner“the Captain”in Elbert County, Georgia, until the age of 21, as a young man the author was arrested and viciously thrashed when he sought alternative work. He subsequently agreed to a series of one year labor contracts and eventually bound himself to the Captain’s plantation for a ten-year term. Shortly afterwards, the Captain began to lease black convicts from the state and warned his free laborers that if they broke their contracts they “could be run down by bloodhounds, arrested without process of law, and returned to our employer, who might beat us brutally or administer any other kind of punishment that he thought proper.” When the contracts expired, the workers found themselves bound once more by debts owed to the Captain for provisions they had procured over several years from his plantation store. Arrested, shackled, confined with state prisoners in a “filthy” stockade, and subject to meager rations and beatings, the “Georgia Negro Peon” worked for three years clearing his debt to the Captain
James Campbell

5. Lynching and Law

Abstract
On August 14, 1936, Rainey Bethea was executed in Owensboro, Kentucky, for the rape of an elderly white woman. Bethea was also suspected of robbery and the woman’s murder-both capital offenses in Kentucky-but he was charged only with rape, the one crime that carried a sentence of public hanging rather than electrocution behind prison walls. Bethea’s arraignment had been a perfunctory event; there was little cross-examination and the jury decided on the sentence in less than five minutes. When he stepped onto the gallows, a crowd estimated at 10,000 looked on, jeering. Many had traveled from far afield-including reporters flown in from New York filling the town’s hotels. They “munched hot dogs and sipped pop” as Bethea prayed, and in the moments after his body fell souvenir hunters rushed forward to tear scraps of cloth from the mask that covered his face.1
James Campbell

6. Crime, Policing, and Urbanization

Abstract
In April 1942, ten months into a minimum three-year sentence for grand larceny, Janice Monica outlined her life story in a letter to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) written from her cell in the New York state prison for women at Bedford Hills. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Monica had moved to New York in 1938 at the age of 19 and worked as a domestic servant. Despite her conviction, she did not “feel at all criminal” and believed her life would have taken a different course, “had my circumstances on the outside been different.” In prison, she explored these circumstances through creative and political writing, including a novel, Native Girl, inspired by Richard Wright’s Native Son, about “the average southern, Negro girl who goes to a metropolis to make good.” Looking to the future, Monica did not want to return to “the conditions” she had “tried to elude” in Tennessee, and nor did she want to continue with the drudgery of domestic work in New York. Instead, she had learned to type and taken a Red Cross First Aid course at Bedford Hills and hoped the NAACP might help find her a position that would satisfy the parole board requirements for early release.1
James Campbell

Civil Rights and Beyond

Frontmatter

7. The Black Freedom Struggle

Abstract
At the Democratic Party Convention in June 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer, a former sharecropper from Mississippi, recounted the racist brutality of southern law enforcement to a national audience. She told of her first attempt to register to vote in 1962 and the white plantation owner who evicted her on learning of the application. She told of the 16 bullets fired into the house of friends where she slept days later. And she told of the day in June, 1963, when she was arrested in Montgomery County, when two black prisoners at the county jail were ordered to beat her until they were exhausted, and when she was sexually assaulted by a state highway patrolman. Suffering partial blindness, kidney damage, serious leg injuries, and bruising across her body, Hamer was still in jail three days later when Byron de la Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens’ Council, an organization committed to the preservation of white supremacy, assassinated Medgar Evers, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Mississippi field secretary.
James Campbell

8. The Penal State

Abstract
Barack Obama who, the following day, would be inaugurated as the first African American President of the United States. “When I look at Barack Obama,” Lester wrote, “I see a man who grew up in a world in which legal racial segregation had become something read about in history classes, a man who does not remember the lynching of Emmett Till, a man who did not put his life at risk so that the words ‘with liberty and justice for all’ would mean what they say, and I am thrilled that he knew none of that.” On the presidential campaign trail in 2007, Obama himself offered a more ambiguous analysis of the legacy of the black freedom struggle. Speaking at Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama, where wounded marchers had found shelter on Bloody Sunday in 1965, he told an audience of civil rights veterans, “it’s because they marched that the next generation hasn’t been bloodied so much.”1 Together, Lester and Obama’s broad assessments of African American history since the civil rights movement serve as an insightful verdict on developments in black crime and punishment over the Indeed, the national and international prominence of the case is partly a consequence of the many ways that it resonates with that history.
James Campbell
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