Invisible History: Middle Florida’s Hidden History, produced by the Florida State University film school, focuses on middle Florida, the cotton growing counties in the panhandle where slavery was an essential part of the economy. It is everything people like Governor DeSantis want to eradicate: stories of black people enslaved, often tortured, for the sake of profit, with all sorts of apologists ready to say why it was acceptable.
Watch this now before the Florida legislature labels it pornography and forces its removal. You may need to make a donation to your PBS station in order to access Passport where it is streaming.* Here is the preview. Many of the commentators are black professors at Florida universities, and I wondered if they had come under attack for participating in this documentary, which was made in 2021.
*You may find it via your public library via the Hoopla app.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander was first published in 2010 and called attention to the impact the War of Drugs had on communities of color. In her preface to the 10th anniversary edition, Alexander discusses what a new version of the book would cover: the hopefulness of prison reform, the complicated legacy of Barack Obama related to incarceration, and the horrific consequences of Donald Trump’s presidency in general.
She resisted the urge to write an updated book and I agree with the decision. Things have changed since 2010 but as long as police have almost unlimited power to stop and search and prosecutors can keep people of color off juries for silly and superstitious reasons, our system is seemingly irretrievably broken. However, Alexander expresses some hope for change in her preface to this new edition.
The book is a meticulously researched historical timeline that shows how we moved from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration as institutional answers to segregation and racism. The latter is seemingly so entrenched legally, politically, culturally and economically that Alexander doesn’t offer much hope for reversing it in her first edition. She is particularly hard on Civil Rights lawyers and activists, including herself, who seem to ignore the issue because it often deals with people who did break the law and that makes it harder to defend them.
That focus, however, is changing and the Prison Policy Initiative is a good starting point for learning more about mass incarceration and the efforts to change the system. For my fellow Virginians, check out the profile page for our state. Here is one graphic to get you started: where the prison inmates come from in the state: