“Today black women are still afflicted by the social, political, and economic vices that predisposed them to arrest, conviction, and incarceration in the past… In order to better understand the modern carceral state and the complex relationship black women have with it, we must confront the past and listen even when it seems to be silent.” — Chained in Silence

Chained in Silence

The American Civil War effectively ended the South’s access to the slave labor traditionally relied upon in its agrarian economy. It did not eliminate the racial, political, social, and economic factors that facilitated the exploitation and abuse of black labor. The result of this toxic combination was the shift of that exploitation from slave state to carceral state, where prisons supplied a stream of black captive laborers.

“Mass incarceration is an epidemic that disproportionately affects African American women. One out of every 100 black women are under the supervision of the U.S. criminal justice system. Sentencing disparities for allegedly committing violent and non-violent drug-related​ crimes have made African American women two times more likely to go to prison than white women. During the peak of the War on Drugs these numbers were even higher—a ratio of 6:1.” —The Search for Jane Crow


“This beautifully written book leads its readers on the journey from Emancipation to the devastating convict-leasing system in Georgia…[and] examines the exploitation of black women’s bodies, the beginnings of mass incarceration, and the rise of the modern New South.”

Erica Armstrong Dunbar

The Nation

“Chained in Silence is a pathbreaking addition to the growing body of historical research on black women and the U.S. justice system…”

Kali Gross

Rutgers University

“A much-needed and distinctly gendered perspective on carceral roots of both antiblack racism and resistance to it, a history that can be silenced no longer.”

Journal of American History

“Leaves us with a radically new understanding of the historical dimensions of racism, gender, and state violence.”

Elizabeth Hinton

The Nation

“This bold, brilliant, beautifully written book—a significant contribution to the fields of prison history, southern history, African American history, and gender studies—shows why charting the struggles in convict women’s lives matters for understanding the emergence of modernity in the New South.”

Mary Ellen Curtin

American University