The Roots of Black Incarceration

Joy James in The Boston Review:

Austin Reed’s The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict is startling, instructive, and disquieting. Unearthed in a 2009 Rochester, New York, estate sale and acquired by Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book Library, it is a hitherto-unknown confessional by a “free” nineteenth-century black New Yorker who spent decades of his life imprisoned. Reed’s memoir introduces readers to the misdeeds and tragedies of a career criminal who began his misadventures before the age of ten and whose first major crime was to set fire to the house of the white man to whom he had been unwillingly indentured.

Reed worked on Haunted Convict intermittently during his long years of confinement, as well as during brief interludes of freedom. Never entirely finished or published—in fact, unknown in its day—it provides a perfect example of problematic encounters with black captivity: How to be enlightened without treating as entertainment the consumption of black suffering? A historical artifact, the book holds both archive and mirror for the present antagonisms about racism, policing, and mass incarceration, contributing to the ongoing exploration and debates concerning American democracy and racial identity built upon black captivity.

More here. (Note: Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to Black History Month. The theme for 2023 is Black Resistance. Please send us anything you think is relevant for inclusion)