Home > Mass Incarceration and Slavery Conference

Announcing a conference on “Mass Incarceration and Slavery” at Tougaloo College, October 11-12, 2019.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Modern-Day Slavery at Tougaloo College and by Historians Against Slavery, with generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This gathering of academics, activists, survivors, public officials, and others has two goals. The first is to understand the history and current state of mass incarceration and its connections to slavery. The second is to use that knowledge to encourage reform and social justice. The conference is free and the community is warmly invited to attend. Please register here.

Keynote addresses will be offered by Marc Mauer (Executive Director of the Sentencing Project) and Susan Burton (founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Project). Drury Inn & Suites is offering reduced rates for conference attendees. Contact the hotel at 800-378-7946 and note the conference and Tougaloo College. For further questions, contact Dr. Stephen Rozman at Tougaloo College at srozman@tougaloo.edu or 601-977-4460



October 11-12, 2019

Bennie G. Thompson Civil Rights Center

Tougaloo College

500 W. County Line Rd.
Tougaloo, MS 39174




Opening Remarks: 8:45-9:00


Keynote: Marc Mauer  9:00-10:30


Panel 1: Mass Incarceration and Slavery: Exploring the Connections 10:45-12:00

Douglas A. Blackmon, Talitha LeFlouria

Stacey Robertson, Moderator


Panel 2: Punishment for Profit: Prison Labor and Mass Incarceration 1:15-2:30

Mary Ellen Curtin, Reginald Moore, Caleb McDaniel

Johnnie Maberry, Chair


Panel 3: Immigrants and Incarceration 2:45-4:00

Jody Owens, Bill Chandler, Carl Lindskoog

Randall Miller, Chair


Slavery by Another Name

Film Screening & Talk Back with Screenwriter and Author 4:15-6:15

Douglas A. Blackmon and Sheila Curran Bernard

Elizabeth Swanson, Moderator


President’s Reception 6:30-8:00




Keynote: Susan Burton 9:00-10:30


Panel 1: Women and Incarceration 10:45-12:00

Kemba Smith Pradia, Andrea James, Denise Coleman

Talitha LeFlouria, Chair


Panel 2: Prevention and Re-entry 1:15-2:30

Rukia Lumumba, Brandale Randolph, Bryan Kelley

Roshunda Harris-Allen, Chair


Panel 3: The Afterlife of Incarceration: Reform or Abolition? 2:45-4:15

Nkechi Taifa, Andrew Eisen, Robert Chase, and Garrett Felber

Nikki Berg Burin, Chair


Participant Bios



Susan Burton | Marc Mauer



Sheila Bernard Curran | Douglas Blackmon | Bill Chandler | Robert Chase

Denise Coleman| Mary Ellen Curtin | Andrew Eisen | Garrett Felber | Andrea James

Bryan Kelley | Talitha LeFlouria | Carl Lindskoog | Rukia Lumumba

W. Caleb McDaniel | Reginald Moore | Jody E. Owens, II | Stacey Robertson

Brandale Randolph | Kemba Smith Pradia | Elizabeth Swanson | Nkechi Taifa



Susan Burton

Following the tragic accidental death of her five-year-old son, Susan Burton’s world collapsed. Her loss snapped the final tether of resilience burdened by a past of pain and trauma. She descended into an emotional abyss of darkness and despair, yet was not offered the resources needed to heal. Without support, she turned to drugs and alcohol which led to nearly 20 years revolving through cycles of incarceration.

Drawing on her personal experiences, she founded A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project  (ANWOL) in 1998 – dedicating her life to helping others break the cycle of incarceration. ANWOL provides resources such as housing, case management, employment, legal services, leadership development and community organizing on behalf of, and with, people who struggle to rebuild their lives after incarceration.

Susan is widely recognized as a leader in the national criminal justice reform movement. A past Soros Justice Fellow, Women’s Policy Institute Fellow and Community Fellow under the California Wellness Foundation’s Violence Prevention Initiative, Susan has served on the state’s Little Hoover Commission and the Gender Responsive Strategies Task Force. In recognition of her leadership, she was appointed by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas as a member of the Los Angeles County Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections. In this role she is authorized to inspect Los Angeles County correctional facilities and advocate for the health and well-being of people housed there.

Susan is a co-founder of All of Us or None (AOUON) and the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement (FICPM), both national grassroots civil rights movements comprised of formerly incarcerated individuals, their families and community allies. In collaboration with UCLA’s Critical Race Studies Program, she launched the Employment Rights Re-Entry Legal Clinic which has grown to be the largest of its kind in Southern California.

Susan has earned numerous awards and honors for her work. In 2010, she was named a CNN Top Ten Hero and received the prestigious Citizen Activist Award from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is a recipient of both the Encore Purpose Prize (2012) and the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award (2014). In 2015, on the 50th Anniversary of Selma and the Voting Rights Act, Susan Burton was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of eighteen New Civil Rights Leaders in the nation. Released in 2017, her memoir, Becoming Ms. Burton received a 2018 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in the category of Biography/Autobiography.  Becoming Ms. Burton is also the recipient of the inaugural Goddard Riverside Stephan Russo Book Prize for Social Justice.

ANWOL’s mission is to advance multi-dimensional solutions to the effects of incarceration. Since its founding, more than 1,000 women and children have found safety and support in five re-entry homes. Over 300 women have been reunited with their children. Through a household goods distribution center, more than 3,500 formerly homeless individuals have been able to acquire items needed to establish their own homes. Since its inception in 2007, ANWOL’s legal department has provided pro bono services to assist thousands seeking relief from the burden of criminal histories. Those services have helped enhance job opportunities by expunging criminal records and offering access to occupational licenses.  As a result of leadership building activities, hundreds more have been educated and empowered to speak in advocacy around issues that directly affect their lives.

Susan Burton is leading an initiative to develop a replication model to assist other communities with providing culturally authentic reentry supports to assist individuals with histories of incarceration and/or convictions.


Marc Mauer is one of the country’s leading experts on sentencing policy, race and the criminal justice system.  He has directed programs on criminal justice policy reform for 30 years, and is the author of some of the most widely-cited reports and publications in the field.  The Atlantic magazine has described him as a scholar who has “reframed how Americans view crime, race, and poverty in the public sphere.” His 1995 report on racial disparity and the criminal justice system led the New York Times to editorialize that the report “should set off alarm bells from the White House to city halls – and help reverse the notion that we can incarcerate our way out of fundamental social problems.” In 2018 Mauer was named a “Frederick Douglass 200” awardee as one of 200 individuals “who best embody the spirit and work of Frederick Douglass.”

Race to Incarcerate, Mauer’s groundbreaking book on how sentencing policies led to the explosive expansion of the U.S. prison population, was a semifinalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1999.  A second edition was published in 2006 and a 2013 graphic novel version was cited by the American Library Association as one of the “Great Graphic Novels” of the year.  Mauer is also the co-editor of Invisible Punishment, a 2002 collection of essays by prominent criminal justice experts on the social cost of imprisonment, and co-author of The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences.

Mauer began his work in criminal justice with the American Friends Service Committee in 1975, and served as the organization’s National Justice Communications Coordinator.  Since joining The Sentencing Project in 1987, he has testified before Congress and state legislatures, frequently appears on radio and television networks, and is regularly interviewed by the New York Times, Washington PostNational Public Radio, and many other major media outlets.  He has served as an adjunct faculty member at George Washington University and Payne Theological Seminary, as well as a consultant to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the National Institute of Justice, and the American Bar Association’s Committee on Race and the Criminal Justice System.  In 2005, he became Executive Director of The Sentencing Project.

Mauer has received the Helen L. Buttenweiser Award from the Fortune Society (1991), the Donald Cressey Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency for contributions to criminal justice research (1996), the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award from the Drug Policy Alliance for achievement in drug policy scholarship (2003), the Maud Booth Correctional Services Award from Volunteers of America (2008), the John Augustus Award from the National Association of Sentencing Advocates (2009), the Margaret Mead Award from the International Community Corrections Association (2009), the Inside/Out Summit Award from Centerforce (2011), the Randy Steidl Excellence in Justice Award from Indiana State University (2018), and the Founders Award from the Western Society of Criminology (2019).

A graduate of Stony Brook University, where he received his bachelor’s degree, Mauer earned his Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan.




Sheila Bernard Curran is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker, author, and educator. Her credits, on nearly 50 hours of prime time broadcast and theatrical programming, include several historical series, including Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years and School: The Story of American Public Education. She also wrote the feature-length documentary Slavery by Another Name, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas A. Blackmon. Her books include Documentary Storytelling, now going into its fifth edition and available in several languages, and Archival Storytelling (with Kenn Rabin), now going into its second edition, both from Focal Press. She’s an associate professor in the Department of History and the Documentary Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY, where she directs the Institute for History and Public Engagement.

Douglas Blackmon is a Professor of Practice at Georgia State University’s Creative Media Institute and directs the Narrating Justice Project, a new initiative exploring questions of social justice across all media platforms. He is the author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, which won the Pulitzer Prize and was a New York Times bestseller. He has contributed to or edited four other books, including Crucible: The President’s First Year, (2018).  Much of Blackmon’s journalism has focused on human suffering and social conflict around the globe. From 2012 to 2018, Blackmon was on the faculty and a senior fellow in presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, and host of American Forum, a 30-minute television interview program seen on more than 250 public television stations across the U.S. His first film, based on Slavery by Another Name, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. He is the co-author, with former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., of the forthcoming book, Pursuing Justice, (2020).

Bill Chandler is Executive Director of MIRA, Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance. An eye witness to the brutal immigration raids during the 1950’s, he has continuously organized and advocated for human and workers’ rights. His recent organizing focus has been with the lowest paid workers in the South, including farm workers, hospitality, health care, public and immigrant and migrant workers. In Mississippi he organized the Mississippi Alliance of State Employees/CWA local 3570. He helped 8,000 casino workers organize their unions. Responding to these abuses by casino contractors and discrimination by Mississippi school districts against undocumented children, Bill brought a group of immigrants, labor, civil rights, religious, social and human rights activists and organizations together to form MIRA in 2000. MIRA is internationally recognized throughout Latin America, Europe, South Asia and Africa for its aggressive work with immigrants in Mississippi, and its efforts to build unity in struggle among people of color. He is the father of six children and has seven grandchildren. He is married to immigration attorney Patricia Ice and they live together in Jackson with their two dogs and two cats.

Robert Chase is associate professor of history at Stony Brook University, State University of New York (SUNY).  He is the author of We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners Rights in Postwar America (UNC, JPP, 2020) which centers coerced prison labor at the heart of the Jim Crow South and the resistance that Black Power and Chicana/o Movement prisoners fomented against southern prison labor regimes.  He is also the editor of Caging Borders and Carceral States: Incarcerations, Immigration Detentions, and Resistance (UNC Press, JPP, 2019).  At Stony Brook University, he organized the 2015 conference “From the Color Line to the Carceral State: Prisons, Policing, and Surveillance.”  His work has been published in the Journal of Urban History, the Journal of American History, and a chapter in the anthology The New, New South (University Press of Florida, 2012).  As a public intellectual, his work on the history of prison and policing reform and state violence has been featured on national media programs through radio, newspapers, and television (MSNBC, CNN, and NPR, Newsweek, Washington Post).

Denise Coleman is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana. Denise became politically active at a very young age in the NAACP and as an active member of Equal Opportunity of Civil Rights. After traumas experienced early in life and questionable decisions and their inevitable consequences, Denise was convicted and sentenced to concurrent double sentences. After serving thirty-one years in federal prisons across the United States, she was paroled out of federal custody. The state of Mississippi, however, did not adhere to her sentencing and release order, and instead, held her for an additional six more years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections. She was finally released in 2018 after serving a total of thirty-seven years. Today Denise is the voice for the women she left behind. She is an active member and fellow for the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, the People’s Advocacy Institute in Jackson, Mississippi, and  Operation Restoration in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a current Reimagining Communities Fellow where she is leading a Clemency Campaign to release women serving life sentences in Mississippi. She also assists in the development of the Credible Messenger initiative in Jackson, Mississippi.

Mary Ellen Curtin is associate professor of History at American University in Washington D.C. where she teaches courses on slavery, the history of incarceration, American women’s history, poverty, and politics. She is the author of Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama 1865-1900 (University Press of Virginia, 2000), a social and political history of convict leasing. Curtin’s pioneering work was profiled in the Sundance award-nominated documentary, Slavery by Another Name. She is currently completing Reaching for Power, a biography of former Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, which will be published with the University of Pennsylvania Press. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, to include a highly prestigious public policy fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Andy Eisen is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Stetson University in Deland, Florida. At the University of Illinois, where he earned his Ph.D., Eisen first began teaching in prisons as a tutor and Language Partner with the Education Justice Project, a model college in prison program operating in Danville. After moving to Florida, Eisen co-founded and now co-directs Stetson University’s Community Education Project (CEP). In 2018, Stetson became the only four-year university in the state to offer credit-bearing courses to incarcerated people. Eisen is currently working with incarcerated researchers to create a traveling exhibit on slavery and Indian removal in East Florida. CEP student-researchers have published their emerging scholarship and presented at local, regional, and national conferences.

Garrett Felber is an Assistant Professor of 20th-century African American History at the University of Mississippi. His research and teaching focus on U.S. social and political history, Black Radicalism, and Critical Prison Studies. His forthcoming book, Those Who Know Don’t Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State (University of North Carolina Press, 2020) is a political history of the Nation of Islam which recenters the role of Black nationalism and prison activism in the postwar Black freedom struggle and the rise of mass incarceration. In 2016, Felber founded Liberation Literacy, an abolitionist collective and radical reading group inside and outside Oregon prisons. He is the lead organizer of the Making and Unmaking Mass Incarceration conference at the University of Mississippi in December 2019 and director of the Parchman Oral History Project – an oral history, archival, and documentary storytelling project on incarceration in Mississippi.

Andrea James J.D. is the Founder and Executive Director of the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, Founder of Families for Justice as Healing, author of Upper Bunkies Unite: And Other Thoughts on the Politics of Mass Incarceration, a 2015 Soros Justice Fellow, and recipient of the 2016 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award. As a former criminal defense attorney and a formerly incarcerated woman, Andrea shares her personal and professional experiences to raise awareness of the effect of incarceration of women on themselves, their children and communities. Her work is focused on ending incarceration of women and girls and contributing to the shift to a justice system led by community solutions.

Bryan Kelley serves as the CEO of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), an innovative nonprofit organization that unites business executives and inmates through entrepreneurial passion and servant leadership to transform lives, restore families and rebuild communities. He wholeheartedly believes that everyone—even felons—are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As an ex-felon and graduate of the program, he points the way for others like him to find the road to a purpose-filled, productive life. Bryan has a BS in psychology from Sam Houston State University. He is a business owner/entrepreneur, advisor, and mentor, and is currently serving on the governing board of two other nonprofit organizations. He is an active member of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas. He is also a speaker and prison-reform advocate giving voice to our marginalized multitudes who wear the scarlet letter of ex-felon.

Talitha LeFlouria is the Lisa Smith Discovery Associate Professor of African and African-American Studies in the Carter G. Woodson Institute at the University of Virginia. She is also the founding director of the Public Voices Fellowship sponsored by The OpEd Project at UVA. Dr. LeFlouria is a nationally recognized historian and a leading expert on black women and mass incarceration. She is the author of the multi-award-winning Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South, the first history of black, working-class incarcerated women in the post-Civil War period. She is currently finishing her second single-authored monograph, The Search for Jane Crow: Black Women and Mass Incarceration in America. Professor LeFlouria writes for a host of popular media outlets and has appeared on several local and nationally syndicated radio programs and podcasts as well as celebrated documentaries. Professor LeFlouria serves as an historical consultant for several non-profit organizations, museums, and historical societies. She is particularly committed to organizations that serve formerly incarcerated women transitioning back into full citizenship.

Carl Lindskoog is assistant professor of history at Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, New Jersey, where he teaches course in United States, Latin American, and African American history.  He is the author of Detain and Punish: Haitian Refugees and the Rise of the World’s Largest Immigration Detention System (University of Florida Press, 2018).  His current book project focuses on revolution, migration, and the Sanctuary Movement from Reagan to Trump.  He received his Ph.D. from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2013.

Rukia Lumumba is a legal professional, transformative justice strategist and daughter of the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and Nubia Lumumba is executive director of the People’s Advocacy Institute, co-coordinator of the Electoral Justice Project and co-manager of the Committee to Elect Chokwe Antar Lumumba for Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.  Lumumba works at the intersections of criminal and electoral justice defending the human rights of those behind prison walls, engaging communities in community-led governance efforts, People’s Assemblies, alternatives to incarceration initiatives, and an intentional grassroots process for cultivating ideas and developing solutions to crime, punitive legal systems and social injustice facing far too many communities. Her work is centered on the belief that community agency is what architects robust systems change and is what is needed to build new institutional power that paves the way for a more just system rooted in restoration, resilience and self-determination.

W. CalebMcDaniel is Associate Professor of History at Rice University and a past Board Member of Historians Against Slavery. He is the author, most recently, of Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution of America (2019).  His first book, The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery (2013), won the Merle Curti Award from the Organization of American Historians and the James Broussard Prize from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.


Reginald Moore is an historian with a certification in Community Economic Development from the College of Biblical Studies. He is also a community activist and has a particular interest in prison reform and prison re-entry. Mr. Moore has worked for decades to gain recognition for the past abuses associated with Sugar Land’s convict leasing system. He served as a correctional officer in the Texas Department of Corrections from 1985 to 1988. While working in the Beauford H. Jester I and III Units, a prison farm located in unincorporated Fort Bend County, Mr. Moore became interested in the history of the Flanagan House (the former warden’s house) and then in the prison’s Central Unit. Over time, this interest grew and became a major research area for Mr. Moore, who went on to found and chair the Texas Slave Descendants’ Society (TSDS) in the early 2000’s. He founded the Convict Leasing and Labor Project (CLLP) in 2018. His research materials are archived at the Woodson Research Center at Rice University.

Jody E. Owens, II has served as the Director and Managing Attorney of the Mississippi office of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). He has headed SPLC’s Mississippi efforts to reform the state’s juvenile justice, educational and mental health systems.  He has successfully litigated class action lawsuits on behalf of children and adults throughout the Deep South in matters involving mass incarceration, private prisons, and the school to prison pipeline.  His work has brought to light horrific and unconstitutional conditions of confinement forced upon children and youth in many for-profit and public juvenile detention facilities. He is a graduate of Jackson State University and received his law degree from Howard University School of Law where he was a member of the Social Justice Law Review and the Huver I. Brown Trial Advocacy Moot Court Team.  In addition, Jody is also a Lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserves. Jody was the 2014 recipient of the Citizenship Award by the Mississippi Bar and a 2015 recipient of the National Bar Association 40 under 40 award.  Owens is the 2015 recipient of the Beth Arnovits Gutsy Advocate for Youth Award, which is given annually by the National Juvenile Justice Network. Most recently, Jody was elected district attorney of Hinds County, Mississippi, which includes Jackson, the state capital.

Stacey Robertson is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of History at SUNY Geneseo, where she has worked since July 2017. She served as Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Central Washington University (2015-17) and held a variety of roles at Bradley University (1994-2014), including the Oglesby Professor of American Heritage and Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is the author of four books focused on social justice movements, including Hearts Beating for Liberty: Women Abolitionists in the Old Northwest (2010). Robertson is the recipient of many teaching awards and research fellowships and has lectured at more than 150 different venues nationally and internationally. She was the co-director of the national non-profit Historians Against Slavery from 2012 to 2018. She appeared as an historical expert on the popular national television show Who Do You Think You Are? featuring actress Zooey Deschanel. She has a B.A. from Whittier College and a Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

Brandale Randolph is the founder of The 1854 Cycling Company, a business that sells handcrafted bicycles while providing living-wage employment, including to people who were formerly incarcerated. Born in Delhi, LA and raised in South Central Los Angeles, he was plucked by the A Better Chance program for inner-city kids and placed in the prestigious Thacher School in the quiet town of Ojai, Calif. After graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, he worked his way up to handling gold and oil commodities at a major hedge fund until the company went bust in the Bernie Madoff scandal. He has authored two books related to poverty “Me & My Broke Neighbor: The 7 Things I Learned About Success Just by Living Next to Him…” and “Like Cavemen & Quail: Poverty Beyond Income and Mindset.”

Kemba Smith Pradia attended Hampton University, where a nightmare on campus led to a 24.5-year sentence in a federal prison. In December 2000, after serving 6.5 years, President Clinton commuted her sentence to time served. Kemba went from college student, domestic violence survivor, federal prisoner, mother, public speaker, advocate and author. She shares her traumatic real life experience in her book, Poster Child:  The Kemba Smith Story. Kemba uses her voice as an advocate on a variety of criminal justice issues including: Conspiracy drug laws, crack cocaine sentencing, mandatory minimum drug sentencing, women and incarceration, felony disenfranchisement, and re-entry. In addition to her advocacy work, she is a sought-after speaker at colleges, universities, high schools, juvenile facilities, churches and national conferences around the nation. For the past 3 years, Kemba has served as a member of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission in which she was appointed by Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Kemba has received numerous awards and recognitions for her courage and determination to educate the public about the devastating consequences of current drug policies and for her commitment in serving women and youth.

Elizabeth Swanson is a Professor of Literature and Human Rights at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. Author of Beyond Terror: Gender, Narrative, Human Rights (2007), Dr. Swanson has co-edited several volumes and written numerous articles about the representation of human rights violations and their remedies in literature and film. Dr. Swanson has worked extensively on the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking, working directly with survivors of both slavery and torture in India, Nepal, and the US. In July, 2018, Cambridge University Press published Human Bondage and Abolition: New Histories of Past and Present Slaveries, which Dr. Swanson co-edited with James Brewer Stewart.

Nkechi Taifa is President and CEO of The Taifa Group, LLC, a social enterprise consulting firm advancing justice. She founded, convenes and directs the Justice Roundtable, an advocacy coalition advancing progressive justice system transformation. Taifa served as Advocacy Director for Criminal Justice at the Open Society Foundations for 16 years. She has also served as legislative and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and the Women’s Legal Defense Fund; founding director of Howard University School of Law’s Equal Justice Program; staff attorney for the National Prison Project; Office Manager and Network Organizer for the Washington Office on Africa; and as a private practitioner representing adult and youth clients.