Skip navigation

Prisons Banning Black Culture and History Books

here is one word that rarely, if ever, is used to describe anything that occurs in prisons. That word is fair. For example, study after study of prison demographics all conclude that although Black citizens are the minority of the U.S. population, they comprise the majority of the nation’s prison population. Just how fair is that?

Once in prison, a person has a lot of time to read. Many prefer to read, read about their culture, their histories, their present circumstances and possible futures. A Black prisoner in Texas found that classic Black-centered books like The Color Purple had been banned — but Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf and two books authored by former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke were available.

In Wisconsin, Black prisoners are not allowed to read 100 Years of Lynching by Ralph Ginzburg but — once again — Mein Kampf is freely available.

The Illinois Department of Corrections’ Danville prison unit confiscated and banned over 200 Black-centered culture and history books being used in a humanities-based, accredited college program. [PLN, October 2019, p. 59] The reason given was “racial stuff.” No kidding. A good many of the books were eventually returned, but not all of them. This was mainly due to intense public backlash that reached the ears of sympathetic state legislators and the prison-reform minded and proactive lieutenant governor.

Had it been a court-ordered return, such a decision would be on appeal for years. Not that it would be likely any pro se prisoner could gain enough traction to sue over the issue. An act of law, introduced into the Congress by former Republican House Speaker Tom DeLay that was signed into law in 1995 by then-Democratic President Bill Clinton called the Prison Litigation Reform Act, has made it nearly impossible for prisoners to sue over the violation of their constitutional rights.

From border to border and coast to coast, Black prison populations are deprived of the ability to learn about their unique place in history and culture. And this is just not fair at all.