Survival and Surveillance: Recovering Narratives of Black Female Criminality during the Civil War

Sunday, January 4, 2015: 9:20 AM
Concourse A (New York Hilton)
Tamika Richeson, University of Virginia
A critical component of my dissertation research titled, “Wild Colored Woman’: A Legal and Cultural Examination of Black Female Criminality in Civil War Era Washington, D.C. 1830-1867,” my digital humanities project applies the police precinct data of over 450 arrests of black women to develop a digital narrative of the lived experiences of “lower-class” black women across space.  Applying crime as a focal point, my study of the spatial relationship between black women’s law-breaking and police surveillance in the nation’s capital, offers a window into the lives and labors of lower-class black women during an era of national conflict and fortified race-based legal restrictions.  At the crux of my analysis of black female criminality, is tracing the criminal activity of black women across the evolving urban landscape. The precinct data allows me to identify areas of the District that were particularly concentrated with arrests.

The nation’s capital was a shared space, occupied by local black and white inhabitants, immigrants, politicians, and soldiers.  Applying geospatial methods, as well as Omeka and Neatline tools, the project involves a detailed examination of criminal data from 1861 and 1862 to capture the tensions and conflicts within that shared space and at centers of power.  Moreover, I have compiled a database that includes a listing of all documented arrests, charges, and sentences of black women in the District from jail registers, warrants, and police court reports documented from 1861 to 1862.  My research demonstrates that black women strategically navigated wartime Emancipation in their quest for independence, stability, and survival.   This case study at the heart of national politics and culture resituates lower-class black women from the margins to the center to examine the racial and gendered context in which American criminal law took shape.