Law and Punishment as a Tool for Racial Violence in Reconstruction Era Virginia

The greatest contest in American law is whether disparate outcomes for Black Americans and other non-white defendants is merely the fault of a hanful of individuals or if these outcomes are deliberate. It is impossible to determine this by looking at the present alone, and so, the purpose of this site is to explore the history of legal racial violence in reconstruction era Virginia. 

The focus on reconstruction era virginia is deliberate. The prohibition of slavery and indentured servitude makes this period an important litmus test for cotemporary forms of both punishment and racial violence. Aspects like chain gangs, the construction of new prisons, and prisoner demographics can offer a promising foundation for an answer to the above inquiry. 

Isabelle Degraff

Libby Prison, 1865

A black and white photo of Libby prison, a Richmond prison for Union army soldiers, including Black soldiers and slaves.  

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