It's a pleasure to mention that Donald Tibbs' new book, From From Black Power to Prison Power: The Making of Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, was published last week. This is the latest in Palgrave Macmillan's series on Contemporary Black History, edited by the late Manning Marable and Peniel F. Joseph.
Cribbing now a little from the book's web page:
This book uses the landmark case Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union to examine the strategies of prison inmates using race and radicalism to inspire the formation of an inmate labor union. It thus rekindles the debate over the triumphs and troubles associated with the use of Black Power as a platform for influencing legal policy and effecting change for inmates. While the ideology of the prison rights movement was complex, it rested on the underlying principle that the right to organize, and engage in political dissidence, was not only a First Amendment right guaranteed to free blacks, but one that should be explicitly guaranteed to captive blacks—a point too often overlooked in previous analyses. Ultimately, this seminal case study not only illuminates the history of Black Power but that of the broader prisoners' rights movement as well.
I've already had the chance to read it and I have to say that it's outstanding. It begins with the social and intellectual context of black power and then uses that foundation to explore the prison union case, which it follows all the way to the Supreme Court. This is a model of how to situate constitutional law in its intellectual context -- akin in method to G. Edward White's Marshall Court and Cultural Change. I noticed that one very keen observer of African American legal history (wink) said of the book:
From Black Power to Prison Power feels stunningly new—a book about a prison union, which most of us know absolutely nothing about, even though their case traveled all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1977. Donald F. Tibbs plumbs the deep history of black power, especially as it relates to criminal justice. He goes back decades before the North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union lawsuit to put it into the context of the emergence of black power, a movement of national and even global dimensions. Tibbs links black power to the movements for feminism, workers' rights, and Civil Rights and along the way joins radical literature, activism, and litigation in a way I have not seen before. Legal history has rarely been so exciting.