Race, Crime, and Incarceration in the United States

Black Children on Chain Gang, ca. 1900.
Juvenile convict prison laborers, United States, ca. 1903
Public domain image, Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress (2016818521)

Race, crime, and incarceration have long been linked in the United States. This page explores its various manifestations including African American participation in organized crime including in particular the rise of gangs and gang violence, African Americans and the prison system, its impact on black life, and the people and organizations engaged in challenging and changing that system. As with our pages on Black Lives Matter and Racial Violence in the United States, we are constantly updating and invite you to make suggestions on other examples that should be included. Please send them to [email protected]. We especially invite you to write entries for this page.

Outlaws, Gangsters, and Gangs, Old and New:

Casper Holstein
Compton, California
David Barksdale
Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson
Frank Lucas
Freeway Rick Ross
Isom Dart
Jeff Fort
Larry Hoover
Stephanie St. Clair
The Blackstone Rangers
The Bloods
The Crips
Watts, California
Watts Gang Truce


Attica Prison Riot, 1971
George Jackson (The Soledad Brothers)
Louisiana State Prison, Angola
Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Operation Hammer
Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville

Challenging the Carceral State:

Angela Davis
Bryan Stevenson
Elaine Brown
The Black Panther Party
The Innocence Project
The Prison Abolition Movement

We at BlackPast.org believe that every black life matters including those that are lost through urban violence. Chicago today is the epicenter for that violence especially involving black men. We are linking below to the Chicago Sun Times “Homicide Watch Chicago” which shows photos of nearly every homicide victim in the city between 2013 and 2017

Homicide Watch Chicago

Bibliography: Major Works on Race, Crime, and the Carceral State

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
(New York: The New Press, 2010)

Paul Butler, Chokehold: Policing Black Men
(New York: The New Press, 2017)

James Foreman Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America
(New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2017)

Talitha LeFlouria, Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016)

Heather Ann Thompson, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy
(New York: Pantheon, 2016)

Related Pages:

Black Lives Matter
Lynchings in the United States Since 1865
Racial Violence in the United States Since 1860