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No Mercy Here

Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity

Sarah Haley

Publication Year: 2016

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries imprisoned black women faced wrenching forms of gendered racial terror and heinous structures of economic exploitation. Subjugated as convict laborers and forced to serve additional time as domestic workers before they were allowed their freedom, black women faced a pitiless system of violence, terror, and debasement. Drawing upon black feminist criticism and a diverse array of archival materials, Sarah Haley uncovers imprisoned women's brutalization in local, county, and state convict labor systems, while also illuminating the prisoners' acts of resistance and sabotage, challenging ideologies of racial capitalism and patriarchy and offering alternative conceptions of social and political life.

A landmark history of black women's imprisonment in the South, this book recovers stories of the captivity and punishment of black women to demonstrate how the system of incarceration was crucial to organizing the logics of gender and race, and constructing Jim Crow modernity.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Justice, Power, and Politics


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

Illustrations and Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xv

This book’s long and winding road was paved with colleagues, friends, and family whose imprint is indelible. I was incredibly fortunate to have guidance from three exceptional scholars from its early incarnations. Hazel V. Carby pushed me to expand the intellectual horizons of this book, to be braver...

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pp. 1-16

“Lula Walker is my name . . . I have a niece who married a drunk and trifling husband.”1 It was a loving aunt’s authoritative assertion, the beginning of a thorough defense predicated upon the possibility of reunion. Lula Walker’s niece, Emma Johnson, was convicted of murder in 1901 and sentenced...

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1. Carceral Constructions of Black Female Deviance

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pp. 17-57

Eliza Cobb was born at the dawn of emancipation in 1866, yet in her life there was little respite from captivity or the agony of conditions wrought by white supremacy. At age twenty-two Cobb was raped and became pregnant, and when she felt the pangs of childbirth one early November morning...

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2. Convict Leasing, (Re)Production, and Gendered Racial Terror

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pp. 58-118

She was already tired by the time she made it to the place where she was sent to work. More than 100 miles from home, Adeline Henderson saw hundreds of other people in her predicament when she finally arrived at Dade County Coal Mines.1 The journey seemed so long and the place so strange, she wondered if she was dreaming...

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3. Race and the Sexual Politics of Prison Reform

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pp. 119-155

At the time of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW)’s formation in July 1896, much was uncertain, including the organization’s goals and agenda. Selena Sloan Butler came to the inaugural meeting prepared, armed with years worth of research on the vio lence imprisoned black women...

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4. Engendering the Chain Gang Economy and the Domestic Carceral Sphere

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pp. 156-194

Fifteen years aft er Selena Sloan Butler described the plight of a “young girl sent to a chain-gang camp in Wilkes county, where she was made to put on men’s clothes and dig ditches, just as the men did,” a woman imprisoned in that very same camp would face the very same conditions...

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5. Sabotage and Black Radical Feminist Refusal

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pp. 195-248

The details of what transpired on November 27, 1918, remain a mystery. It seems that fl owers were debased in a section of Albany, Georgia, that represented the complex landscape of Jim Crow modernity. Three black girls were held responsible. Two of the girls were neighbors: Carrie Williams, age sixteen...

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pp. 249-258

The bars that held imprisoned black women in the first two decades of the twentieth century remain; despite deep and expansive transformations the bars endure for a regime that is past but not ended. The barred windows of a small back room in the Chastain Arts Center that used to hold imprisoned...


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pp. 259-298


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pp. 299-318


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pp. 319-337

E-ISBN-13: 9781469627618
E-ISBN-10: 1469627612
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469627595

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 10 halftones, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2016

Series Title: Justice, Power, and Politics
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OCLC Number: 939963318
MUSE Marc Record: Download for No Mercy Here

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Women prisoners -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • African American prisoners -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • Women prisoners -- United States -- History.
  • African American prisoners -- United States -- History.
  • Sex discrimination in criminal justice administration -- United States.
  • Women prisoners -- Abuse of -- United States.
  • African American women -- Abuse of -- United States.
  • Race discrimination -- United States.
  • Sex discrimination against women -- United States.
  • Prison sentences -- United States -- History.
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