Child Incarceration and the Making of the New South
While many Virginians may be familiar with the story of Virginia Christian, the 17-year-old juvenile executed by the state of Virginia in 1912, few have heard of Mary Booth, a 14-year-old African American girl convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1882.
This talk by VFH Fellow Dr. Catherine A. Jones, associate professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, explores why Booth’s life was ultimately spared while Christian’s was not. These two young women shared the experience of incarceration with hundreds of Virginia youths between the end of the Civil War and the establishment of a separate juvenile justice system. In this period, Virginia children were objects of both increased state protection and intensified incarceration.
Jones’s talk suggests that examining the paths children traveled in and out of the Virginia Penitentiary sheds light on how shifting understandings of youth intersected with race in the emergence of the era’s progressive reforms. It also considers what insights this period in Virginia’s history might offer into why African American children remain disproportionately vulnerable to incarceration in the present.