Challenging incarceration and policing was central to the post-war Black Freedom Movement. In his new book Those Who Know Don't Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State
(UNC Press, 2020), Garrett Felber
centers the Nation in the Civil Rights Era and the making of the modern carceral state. In doing so, he reveals a multifaceted freedom struggle that focused as much on policing and prisons as on school desegregation and voting rights. The book examines efforts to build broad-based grassroots coalitions among liberals, radicals, and nationalist to oppose the carceral state and struggle for local Black self-determination. It captures the ambiguous place of the Nation of Islam specifically, and Black nationalist organizing more broadly, during an era which has come to redefined by non-violent resistance, desegregation campaigns, and racial liberalism.
By provocatively documenting the interplay between law enforcement and Muslim communities, Felber decisively shows state repression and Muslim organizing laid the groundwork for the modern carceral state and the contemporary prison abolition movement which opposes it. Exhaustively researched, the book illuminates new sites and forms of political struggle as Muslims prayed under surveillance in prison yards and used courtroom political theatre to put the state on trial. This history captures familiar figures in new ways Malcolm X the courtroom lawyer and A. Philip Randolph the Harlem coalition builder while highlighting the forgotten organizing of rank and file activists in prisons such as Martin Sostre. This definitive account is an urgent reminder that Islamophobia, state surveillance, and police violence have deep roots in the state repression of Black communities during the mid-20th century.
Adam McNeil is a 3rd year Early African American History PhD Student at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey