Legacies links for March 20, 2023: some recent scholarship illustrating the legacies of slavery

This week, a selection of recent scholarship related to the legacies of slavery. Access to some of these articles may be limited to subscribers. As always, a link here does not necessarily mean endorsement or agreement by the Council of Independent Colleges. Please share this post — and share with us any relevant articles you may have written (or found).

Photograph from Negro Education: A Study of the Private and Higher Schools for Colored People in the United States (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1917). source: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library

Contested Citizenship and the Law

As these articles remind us, the histories of slavery, freedom, and American law are deeply intertwined.

  • Valerie Sirenko, “Destroyed Documents and Racial Vulnerability in the Literature of Slavery’s Legal Afterlife,” American Literature 95:1 (March 2023): https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-10345337 (subscription only).

    From the abstract: “This article argues that Black writers throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries produced a critical knowledge of how legal documentation functions to produce racialized structures of power and Black vulnerability at law. In literature that reckons with slavery’s legal afterlife, particularly antebellum slave narratives, post-Reconstruction novels, and neo-slave narratives, Black authors frequently represent legal documents as pivotal to legal personhood and theorize how these documents produce vulnerability to violence and dispossession.”
  • Bennett Parten, “‘The Science of Human Rights’: American Abolitionism and the Language of Human Rights,” Slavery & Abolition (February 2023): https://doi.org/10.1080/0144039X.2023.2173005 (subscription only).

    From the abstract: “Historians of human rights have not had much to say about America’s anti-slavery movement. Scholars tend to focus instead on the early enlightenment or how ideas of human rights emerged over the twentieth century. This essay, however, makes a case for why American abolitionists should be considered early rights pioneers and progenitors of what we know as human rights. It argues that though different factions of the movement had particular conceptions of rights, the movement itself mobilized around a shared rights vision and made this vision of human rights a center piece of America’s anti-slavery crusade.”
  • Geoffrey Heeren, “Immigration Law and Slavery: Rethinking the Migration or Importation Clause,” Wisconsin Law Review 2023:4 (March 2023): https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4378786 (full text).

    From the abstract: “The traditional account of the origins of federal immigration law mostly glosses over its deep connection to slavery. An examination of that connection calls the constitutional foundation for immigration law into question, alters the calculus for judicial review of federal immigration action, reframes our understanding of federalism, and lays bare the nation’s exploitative dependence on immigrant labor. This article makes this paradigm shift by focusing on a long-neglected textual source for federal immigration power: the Migration or Importation Clause [Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution].”

Mass Incarceration and Policing

African Americans are dramatically over-represented in America’s prison population; they are also, disproportionately, the victims of police violence. These articles explore the historical and systemic forces behind these facts.

  • Precious Skinner-Osei and Diny Mercedes, “Collateral Consequences: The Impact of Incarceration on African American Fathers and Their Sons,” Journal of Forensic Social Work 7:1 (2023): https://doi.org/10.15763/issn.1936-9298.2023.7.1.1-13 (full text).

    From the abstract: “For decades researchers [have] linked the effects of parental incarceration to adverse childhood outcomes, including increased likelihood of imprisonment, particularly for African American males. Therefore, this study explored the impact of incarceration on African American fathers and their sons. The data revealed four major [areas of impact]: caregiving, stigma, paternal bonds, and reentry.”
  • Courtney M. Echols, “Anti-Blackness is the American Way: Assessing the Relationship Between Chattel Slavery, Lynchings, & Police Violence During the Civil Rights Movement,” Race and Justice (2022): https://doi.org/10.1177/21533687211073299 (subscription only).

    From the abstract: “Research finds that historical anti-Black violence helps to explain the spatial distribution of contemporary conflict, inequality, and violence in the U.S. Building on this research, the current study examined the spatial relationship between chattel slavery in 1860, lynchings of Black individuals between 1882 and 1930, and anti-Black violence during the Civil Rights Movement era in which police or other legal authorities were implicated. I draw on an original dataset of over 300 events of police violence that occurred between 1954 and 1974 in the sample state of Louisiana, and that was compiled from a number of primary and secondary source documents that were themselves culled from archival research conducted in the state.”
  • Aaron Gottlieb and Kalen Flynn, “The Legacy of Slavery and Mass Incarceration: Evidence from Felony Case Outcomes,” Social Service Review 95:1 (March 2021): https://doi.org/10.1086/713922 (full text).

    From the abstract: “One common explanation for mass incarceration is that it is the latest in a series of institutions created to enforce the racial hierarchy in the United States. Despite this perspective’s prominence, it has been rarely tested empirically with extensive quantitative data. … [We found] that a criminal charge in a county with high levels of slavery in 1860 increases the likelihood [now] of pretrial detention, the probability of a sentence of incarceration, and the length of incarceration sentences. These results hold for the full sample and for Black and White individuals separately.”

Persistent Inequalities

Two (among many) areas still marked by systemic inequalities that have deep roots in slavery: home ownership and the healthcare system.

  • Brenda D. Gibson, “The Heirs’ Property Problem: Racial Caste Origins & Systemic Effects in the Black Community,” City University of New York Law Review (2023): https://ssrn.com/abstract=4339700 (full text).

    From the abstract: “This article enters the conversation about Black poverty in a new way — discussing the phenomenon of the heirs’ property ownership model as an impediment to Black wealth. As discussed in this article, heirs’ property is ‘family-owned land that is jointly owned by descendants of a deceased person’ by intestacy. This model of property ownership is found throughout the United States, usually in places with high poverty and minoritized populations. … [J]uxtaposed with the history of Black people in the United States, particularly through the lens of the South Carolina Low Country, and American systems that have birthed and nurtured incalculable inequities … it becomes clear that heirs’ property ownership … was birthed out of America’s racial caste system … [and continues to promote] Black land loss.”
  • Garssandra Presumey-Leblanc and Megan Sandel, “The Legacy of Slavery and the Socialization of Black Female Health and Human Services Workforce Members in Addressing Social Determinants of Health,” Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities (2023): https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-023-01510-y (subscription only).

    From the abstract and conclusions: “One legacy of slavery and colonialist structures is that minority populations, particularly the Black populations, experience higher rates of poverty, disease, job insecurity, and housing instability today — all indicators of poor health or negative social determinants of health (SDOH). … As sufferers of negative social determinants [themselves], Black women [working in health and human services (HHS)] … use their lived experiences and historical trauma to challenge the systems within which they work.”