Project Overview

"Daughters of Jim Crow’s Injustice”: African American Women, Mass Incarceration, and the Business of Black Women’s Bodies at Parchman Penitentiary, 1890-1980

Faculty Sponsor

Dionne Bailey (




This project seeks to restore to the historical record the lived experiences of African American girls and women, who, while incarcerated at Parchman Penitentiary, an 18,000-acre penal farm in Sunflower County, which is also known as the heart of the Mississippi Delta, found themselves victims of a state that envisioned their industrialized success bound to the physical and sexual labor of Black girls and women’s bodies. The history of the carceral state, especially in Mississippi, has historically focused on the incarceration of African American boys and men while omitting the significance of Black girls and women in the success of the state rebuilding its economy post-civil war. Mississippi envisioned a system that not only criminalized African Americans, but also one that emerged as a system to re-enslave the population that white Mississippians deemed inferior.

The research revolves around traveling to Mississippi to conduct oral histories of surviving grassroots organizers and civil righs activists, including Freedom Riders who were made up m mostly of members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist who was assassinated in his front yard in 1963, as well as, confidants of L.C. Dorsey, a prison reformer who in the 1970s helped individuals incarcerated at Parchman Penitentiary bring to and win a Supreme Court case against the state of Mississippi. Student researchers will visit three state archives including the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and archives at both the University of Mississippi and Jackson State University. Here, we will spend time combing through several collections which may include governor's papers; biennial records; Mississippi Department of Corrections files; Civil Rights collections; legal cases; L.C. Dorsey papers, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission papers; and the White Citizens' Councils Collection. 

Once we return to campus, students will work on transcribing oral histories, analyzing and interpreting primary sources, maintaining a digital archive via Google Docs and folders that house all primary research, and lastly, helping to create spreadsheets containing all pertinent information.  

Student Qualifications

Students should have taken at least one introductory American History course, and have experience identifying relevant scholarly literature, especially in the fields of African American History, African American Studies, or the History of the American South. Students should also have the ability to provide a succinct synopsis of scholarly books and articles; an interest in reading and interpreting historical documents between the 1950s and 1980s; prior knowledge of or the ability to learn how to navigate (on-site and digital) archives; and the ability to create and maintain google docs and folders which house information acquired from primary research. Lastly, it is expected that researchers be willing to travel to Mississippi during the summer for two weeks to conduct oral history interviews and field research in partnership with Professor T. Dionne Bailey. 

Number of Student Researchers

2 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 10/03/2023 and close on 02/28/2024

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (