Mass Incarceration: A Primer

Slavery and Racism: An Introduction

There are many sources available for studying the history of slavery and racism in America. This is a very limited list of sources as we are including what can be immediately available online, to serve as a primer, an introduction, to the history of slavery in America and its links to mass incarceration today.

1. The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
This six-series PBS documentary is narrated by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Only the first episode is online at PBS, though the DVD can be purchased for #24.99 at

Episode 1 can be viewed at that link, also, until 10/22/2017. Other episodes have been loaded to YouTube by private individuals. Here, then are links to all six episodes, with no guarantee as to how long those links will be viable.

2. Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938
The Library of Congress online source “contains more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black and white photographs of former slaves  (, but a much shorter and more easily navigated version of some of these narratives, with accompanying photos, is found online at:

3. PBS, American Forum: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism  (56:54 minutes)

Douglas Blackmon talks with Edward Baptist, author of the book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Blackmon begins the forum by stating that the book is:
a history of ante-bellum slavery in the United States arguing that the 
enslavement of African people brought to North America in the two
centuries prior to the Civil War was not just a great moral failure of 
American society, in the South specifically, but was in fact the cornerstone
for economic success throughout the United States in that century, that
for decades and decades slavery was central to the fortunes of generations 
of all white Americans in the North, South, and West, regardless of 
whether or not they directly owned enslaved people or participated in the
business of slavery. He suggests even that the very survival of the young
American republic created in 1776 was due to the nation’s voracious and
violent exploitation of enslaved people and that without slavery the United
States would never have emerged as a world power.

4. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II
“In this groundbreaking historical expose, Douglas A. Blackmon brings to light one of the most shameful chapters in American history—when a cynical new form of slavery was resurrected from the ashes of the Civil War and re-imposed on hundreds of thousands of African-Americans until the dawn of World War II.” 

Douglas Blackmon discusses his book here:
His presentation (which begins about 9:28) provides background to the Jim Crow laws that were passed by Southern states after the Civil War. He describes how his research revealed the myths of black criminality after the war and how white Southerners used such laws as “vagrancy” and other trumped-up offenses to arrest masses of black men who were then penalized to work for commercial operations that the law allowed to “buy out” prisoners from the jails.

PBS documentary based on Douglas Blackmon’s book:
Also available here:

5. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
“The New Jim Crow is a stunning account of the rebirth of a caste-like system in the United States, one that has resulted in millions of African Americans locked behind bars and then relegated to a permanent second-class status—denied the very rights supposedly won in the Civil Rights Movement. Since its publication in 2010, the book has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year; been dubbed the 'secular bible of a new social movement' by numerous commentators, including Cornel West; and has led to consciousness-raising efforts in universities, churches, community centers, re-entry centers, and prisons nationwide. The New Jim Crow tells a truth our nation has been reluctant to face.”

On Fresh Air, Dave Davies interviews Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow. At this link, you can listen to the program or read highlights of the interview:

The Center for Law and Justice summarizes Michelle Alexander’s book here:

An online video of Michelle Alexander giving the 2013 George E. Kent Lecture at the University of Chicago:

6. Institutional and Systemic Racism
We tend to focus on individual racism, which we can easily identify because it is overt. However, racism manifests itself in much more subtle and damaging ways through the institutions and embedded structure of a society. And the effects are far-reaching. 

Additional sources:

Mississippi’s War: Slavery and Secession (almost 59 minutes long)
This documentary of one state’s experience with slavery and secession was aired by Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The documentary examines states’ rights versus slavery and the motivating factor that led to the state’s seceding from the Union.

Big Think—Ethan Nadelman: The War on Drugs is Racist

online video: What Scientific Racism Did to the Blacks Worldwide

The New Jim Crow online documentary

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