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Those Who Know Don't Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State

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Challenging incarceration and policing was central to the postwar Black Freedom Movement. In this bold new political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam, 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 Challenging incarceration and policing was central to the postwar Black Freedom Movement. In this bold new political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam, 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 nationalists 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 be defined by nonviolent resistance, desegregation campaigns, and racial liberalism. By provocatively documenting the interplay between law enforcement and Muslim communities, Felber decisively shows how 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 theater 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.


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Challenging incarceration and policing was central to the postwar Black Freedom Movement. In this bold new political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam, 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 Challenging incarceration and policing was central to the postwar Black Freedom Movement. In this bold new political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam, 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 nationalists 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 be defined by nonviolent resistance, desegregation campaigns, and racial liberalism. By provocatively documenting the interplay between law enforcement and Muslim communities, Felber decisively shows how 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 theater 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.

44 review for Those Who Know Don't Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State

  1. 5 out of 5

    josie

    one of the best books I read this year. make time for it

  2. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    Growing up white in America in the second half of the 20th century, I assimilated a negative view of the Nation of Islam that was not dissipated by reading Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X. With Malcolm's face on the cover of this book, I thought it would be more about him than it is. However, it does provide a detailed and thought-provoking history of the activism of the NOI against police brutality and mistreatment of prisoners, well before the most recent wave of similar activism in t Growing up white in America in the second half of the 20th century, I assimilated a negative view of the Nation of Islam that was not dissipated by reading Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X. With Malcolm's face on the cover of this book, I thought it would be more about him than it is. However, it does provide a detailed and thought-provoking history of the activism of the NOI against police brutality and mistreatment of prisoners, well before the most recent wave of similar activism in the last 15 years. It's organized topically rather than chronologically. Even within the chapters, I sometimes found the chronology confusing, as events are brought up when relevant even if it ends up causing the dates to jump around a bit. Felber is not here to defend the NOI, and he takes as a given that they were an organization nowhere near as violent or negative as their general reputation. Since he does not seriously undertake to persuade you of that viewpoint, you have to take it on faith and absorb the rest of the information he gives. Certainly we know now, if we didn't know then, that any organization that seeks to stand up for people of color and put them first always gets accused of wanting to harm white people, so it's highly likely the worst of their reputation was undeserved. They were definitely victims of racist policing and violations of civil rights. How their members conducted themselves in prison and how they went about asserting their civil rights were ahead of their times. Felber asserts, without explaining, that the NOI was completely consonant with mainstream Islam, and again it's not his brief here to take that argument on. I know only a little about Islam, and I remember from the Malcolm biography that he did return from Mecca with ideas about the differences between the two. It is true that Malcolm said, There aren't "Black Muslims," there are Muslims and we are black. That's also a topic for other sources. There have been black feminist critiques of the NOI (I cannot remember where; was there something on this in the Black Woman's History of the US? Sorry!) for the way they subordinated women. In a few places, Felber inserts a few pages disputing or "contextualizing" the assertion that the NOI perpetuated oppression of women, but they read as though they were added after the book was done, in order to say he doesn't avoid the issue, and seem disconnected from the rest of the narrative. His argument seems to boil down to: Black women were not entitled to the same protections white women were in US society, so for black men to speak for them and guard them and so on was an assertion of their value that they usually didn't receive. Maybe; I'm not sold, but I'm white so that may not matter. I'd love to read reviews of this book by black women. On the whole, worth reading and I'm glad I read it. Black Lives Matter is an assertion that has been necessary long before it was formulated in those words.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David Lucander

    A dense but brief book, Felber packs a lot into less than 200 pages. His thesis is basically that (1) the Nation of Islam was at the forefront of the prisoner's rights movement, (2) aggressive policing and government surveillance techniques applied to the early NOI were what triggered key riots in the long hot summers, and (3) a combination of racism and Islamophobia influenced how pretty much everyone understood the Nation. I don't agree with all of Felber's analysis, but I can say that this bo A dense but brief book, Felber packs a lot into less than 200 pages. His thesis is basically that (1) the Nation of Islam was at the forefront of the prisoner's rights movement, (2) aggressive policing and government surveillance techniques applied to the early NOI were what triggered key riots in the long hot summers, and (3) a combination of racism and Islamophobia influenced how pretty much everyone understood the Nation. I don't agree with all of Felber's analysis, but I can say that this book is totally worth reading. It's very well researched, thought provoking, and the endnotes are very good.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Kelly

  5. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Frank

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

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    Scott

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

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    Roger

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    Mason Miller-Breetz

  11. 4 out of 5

    Madeleine

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    Eric

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    Muhammad A'Bdulhadi

  14. 5 out of 5

    Martha Nelson

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    Lorelei

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    Jaylani Adam

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    Ellie Mcquaig

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    Katie

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    Kai Tune

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    Lashunda Hill

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    Genevieve

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    Maham Kamal

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    Aleks

  44. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Agin

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