Slaves of the State

Slaves of the State

Black Incarceration From the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary

Book - 2015
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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 State presents 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 State paves 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.

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Childs presents students, academics, and researchers with an investigation of the history of incarceration, the exception clause of the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the practice of forced labor in our nation's prisons, chain gangs, prison plantations, and peon camps, arguing that the incarceration of black people and other historically repressed groups amounts to a perpetuation of chattel slavery post-emancipation. The author’s narrative engages with the works of celebrated authors Chester Himes, Toni Morrison, and others while delving into archival materials and first-person accounts of those directly affected. Dennis Childs is a faculty member of the University of California, San Diego. Annotation ©2015 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: Minneapolis :, University of Minnesota Press,, [2015]
ISBN: 9780816692408
Characteristics: 259 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm


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