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Products for grant FZ-279968-21

The Trials of William Freeman (1824-1847): A Story of Murder, Race, and America's First Industrial Prison
Robin Bernstein, President and Fellows of Harvard College

Grant details:

Freeman: The Black Youth Who Challenged America's Premier Industrial Prison (Book)
Title: Freeman: The Black Youth Who Challenged America's Premier Industrial Prison
Author: Robin Bernstein
Editor: n/a
Abstract: Profit-driven incarceration was born in central New York State in a small village called Auburn. There, starting in the 1820s, prisoners were forced to labor in prison factories to produce furniture and animal harnesses, carpets and combs for public sale. The prison pocketed the profits; prisoners, who were considered “slaves of the state,” received no cut. In 1846, however, one youth named William Freeman threatened this system. Freeman was convicted of horse theft and incarcerated in Auburn for five years, starting in 1840 when he was fifteen years old. Set to work in prison factories, Freeman resisted. The freeborn son of a manumitted Black father and a free Black and Stockbridge-Narragansett mother, Freeman was incensed at being forced to work, as he put it, “for nothing.” He demanded wages. His claim was simple, but it challenged Auburn’s defining idea: he insisted that he was not a slave, but a citizen with rights, a worker. The assertion triggered violence: first against him, then by him. After his release, William Freeman committed a hideous quadruple murder that bewildered New Yorkers and forced them to reckon with his claims. They did so—but not by reevaluating the fusion of profit and incarceration. Instead, many defended it. Desperate to distract from Freeman’s ideas and manage their terror, white Auburnites—reformers and businesspeople, Whigs and Democrats, antislavery and not—spun tales that blamed Freeman’s crimes on Black families, Black freedom, Blackness itself. Meanwhile, Black people developed practices of self-determination to live in a city dominated by a citadel of unfreedom.
Year: 2022
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: The book does not yet have a website. I have provided my general website.
Access Model: This is a book that will be available in print, digital, and audio formats.
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: n/a
Copy sent to NEH?: No