Early twentieth-century African American men in northern urban
centers like New York faced economic isolation, segregation, a
biased criminal justice system, and overt racial attacks by police
and citizens. In this book, Douglas J. Flowe interrogates the
meaning of crime and violence in the lives of these men, whose
lawful conduct itself was often surveilled and criminalized, by
focusing on what their actions and behaviors represented to them.
He narrates the stories of men who sought profits in underground
markets, protected themselves when law enforcement failed to do so,
and exerted control over public, commercial, and domestic spaces
through force in a city that denied their claims to citizenship and
manhood. Flowe furthermore traces how the features of urban Jim
Crow and the efforts of civic and progressive leaders to restrict
their autonomy ultimately produced the circumstances under which
illegality became a form of resistance.
Drawing from voluminous prison and arrest records, trial
transcripts, personal letters and documents, and investigative
reports, Flowe opens up new ways of understanding the black
struggle for freedom in the twentieth century. By uncovering the
relationship between the fight for civil rights, black
constructions of masculinity, and lawlessness, he offers a stirring
account of how working-class black men employed extralegal methods
to address racial injustice.