Thousands of books are banned throughout state and federal prisons in the USA.
Each state has an extensive list of books that are restricted, and much of the materials sent in from friends and family are reviewed and censored.
Prison officials have the power to censor reading material they deem a ‘serious threat to security’, however many states follow that rule broadly and abide by arbitrary policies to exclude books on civil and human rights, and American history written by black authors.
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, the rules followed by the prisons are inconsistent and illogical. In Wisconsin Prison, for example, Ralph Ginzburg’s collation of news reports, 100 Years of Lynching, is banned but Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf is permitted, begging the question what ‘rules’ they are following.
Black authors and books about social justice are high on the list of literature banned in US prisons today, with many prisons withholding their reasons for the restrictions.
“Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) who was born into slavery in Maryland and after his escape to Massachusetts in 1838 became an ardent abolitionist and campaigner for women’s rights. His Narrative, which became an instant bestseller on publication in 1845, describes his life as a slave, the cruelty he suffered at the hands of his masters, his struggle to educate himself and his fight for freedom. Passionately written, often using striking biblical imagery, the Narrative came to assume epic proportions as a founding anti-slavery text in which Douglass carefully crafted both his life story and his persona.”
“First published in 1903, this groundbreaking work is a cornerstone of African American literary history and a foundational text in the field of sociology. In these fourteen essays, W. E. B. Du Bois introduces and explores the concept of “double-consciousness”—a term he uses to describe the experience of living as an African American and having a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.
Though an examination of Black life in post–Civil War America, The Souls of Black Folk has had a lasting impact on civil rights and the discussion of race in the United States.”
“The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. One in every 15 people born there today is expected to go to prison. For black men this figure rises to one in 3. And Death Row is disproportionately black, too. Bryan Stevenson grew up poor in the racially segregated South. His innate sense of justice made him a brilliant young lawyer, and one of his first defendants was Walter McMillian, a black man sentenced to die for the murder of a white woman – a crime he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, startling racial inequality, and legal brinksmanship – and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. At once an unforgettable account of an idealistic lawyer’s coming of age and a moving portrait of the lives of those he has defended, Just Mercy is an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.”
“An international bestseller which has sold over a million copies in the UK, Dreams From My Father is a refreshing, revealing portrait of a young man asking big questions about identity and belonging.
The son of a black African father and a white American mother, President Obama recounts an emotional odyssey. He retraces the migration of his mother’s family from Kansas to Hawaii, then to his childhood home in Indonesia. Finally he travels to Kenya, where he confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.”
“Unlovely and unloved, Pecola prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged white schoolfellows. At once intimate and expansive, unsparing in its truth-telling, The Bluest Eye shows how the past savagely defines the present. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterised her writing.”
“Meet Dolores Price. She’s thirteen, wise-mouthed but wounded. Beached like a whale in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the chocolate, crisps and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally rolls into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she’s determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before really going belly up.
In his extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch an incredible ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years. At once a fragile girl and a hard-edged cynic, so tough to love yet so inimitably loveable, Dolores is as poignantly real as our own imperfections.”
“In 1976, Dana dreams of being a writer. In 1815, she is assumed a slave.
When Dana first meets Rufus on a Maryland plantation, he’s drowning. She saves his life – and it will happen again and again.
Neither of them understands his power to summon her whenever his life is threatened, nor the significance of the ties that bind them.
And each time Dana saves him, the more aware she is that her own life might be over before it’s even begun.”
“1841: Solomon Northup is a successful violinist when he is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Taken from his family in New York State – with no hope of ever seeing them again – and forced to work on the cotton plantations in the Deep South, he spends the next twelve years in captivity until his eventual escape in 1853.
First published in 1853, this extraordinary true story proved to be a powerful voice in the debate over slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War. It is a true-life testament of one man’s courage and conviction in the face of unfathomable injustice and brutality: its influence on the course of American history cannot be overstated.”
“Ranging from personal correspondence to courtroom transcripts to journalistic accounts, Christopher Waldrep has extensively mined an enormous quantity of documents about lynching, which he arranges chronologically with concise introductions. He reveals that lynching has been part of American history since the Revolution, but its victims, perpetrators, causes, and environments have changed over time. From the American Revolution to the expansion of the western frontier, Waldrep shows how communities defended lynching as a way to maintain law and order. Slavery, the Civil War, and especially Reconstruction marked the ascendancy of racialised lynching in the nineteenth century, which has continued to the present day, with the murder of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s contention that he was lynched by Congress at his confirmation hearings.”
“Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law offers “the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation” (William Julius Wilson). Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods. A groundbreaking, “virtually indispensable” study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history (Chicago Daily Observer), The Color of Law forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past.”