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Beyond the Book

424 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 28 halftones, notes, bibl., index

Justice, Power, and Politics

ISBN  978-1-4696-2979-7
Published: March 2016

Captive Nation

Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era

By Dan Berger

Awards & Distinctions

2015 James A. Rawley Prize, Organization of American Historians

In this pathbreaking book, Dan Berger offers a bold reconsideration of twentieth century black activism, the prison system, and the origins of mass incarceration. Throughout the civil rights era, black activists thrust the prison into public view, turning prisoners into symbols of racial oppression while arguing that confinement was an inescapable part of black life in the United States. Black prisoners became global political icons at a time when notions of race and nation were in flux. Showing that the prison was a central focus of the black radical imagination from the 1950s through the 1980s, Berger traces the dynamic and dramatic history of this political struggle.

The prison shaped the rise and spread of black activism, from civil rights demonstrators willfully risking arrests to the many current and former prisoners that built or joined organizations such as the Black Panther Party. Grounded in extensive research, Berger engagingly demonstrates that such organizing made prison walls porous and influenced generations of activists that followed.

About the Author

Dan Berger is assistant professor of comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington Bothell.


"A provocative and compelling history of black activism in the US prison system."

"Multidimensional analysis that takes into account feminist, queer, and multiethnic lenses."
--Journal of American History

“Helps connect the broader scholarship on black freedom struggles with a largely taken for granted segment of the activist population, prisoners.”
--Journal of Social History

"An important history."

“Berger undoubtedly achieves his overarching goal: to tell the story of the ‘multifaceted rebellions that occurred in and through America’s prisons.’”
--Punishment and Society

“Dan Berger’s analysis offers an opportunity to consider the ways that incarcerated African Americans, primarily during the 1970s, insisted that we consider the ways that prisons implicated state power in the production of racial inequality.”
--The Black Scholar

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