“The Mis-education of the Negro” — that 1933 classic authored by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson — is widely respected as a seminal examination of detrimental, discriminatory shortcomings within America’s educational system and its wider society.
No surprise that some Pennsylvania prison system officials consider Woodson’s work inflammatory (radically and racially) deeming it inappropriate for inmates to read despite the book’s intent of inspiring elevation through education.
Some officials have barred some inmates from receiving “Mis-education” — using Pennsylvania Department of Corrections directives for banning publications — directives utilized to also block books containing little known information about Black history and Islam.
There’s unchained irony in banning “Mis-education” from a prison system where Blacks comprise 49 percent of the 51,000+ inmates.
Mis-educating is obviously a problem within Pennsylvania state prisons since over 42 percent of all inmates have less than a 12th-grade education with the average inmate reading at slightly less than an 8th-grade level.
Apparently the rehabilitation of inmates that the DoC receives over $1.7 billion dollars annually to achieve does not include allowing some inmates exposing themselves to the mentally elevating insights contained in “Mis-education.”
In “Mis-education” Dr. Woodson observed that the “greatest indictment” of the education Blacks receive is that “they have learned little as to making a living…”
Woodson’s observation is evident in Pennsylvania prison data detailing that 77 percent of all inmates in the system “were unskilled or possessed no skills” when they entered prison.
Most know Dr. Woodson as the founder of “Negro History Week” — an annual observance he conceived in the early 1920s for highlighting the overlooked contributions Blacks made to America’s development.
Since 1976, Dr. Woodson’s original one-week observance now extends throughout the entire month of February.
Mis-education, interestingly, drives misconceptions some Blacks hold about the holding of Black History Month in February. Some mistakenly think “someone” maliciously shunted this observance to February as a sly insult since February is the shortest month of the year.
Dr. Woodson scheduled his week-long observance to coincide with the February birthdays of legendary Black activist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
For prison officials intent on totally controlling all aspects of an inmate’s existence, banning “Mis-education” makes sense.
As Dr. Woodson observed in that book, “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. … If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.”
Apparently from the perspective of some state prisons’ officials “Mis-education” falls into one of the many categories the DoC has for determining the ban of books, magazines, newspapers and newsletters.
Since “Mis-education” does not contain ban-triggering instruction on making explosives, creating escape devices or manufacturing intoxicating beverages perhaps some officials consider it in the prohibited categories of being “racially inflammatory material” and/or a writing that advocates “insurrection … against the government or any of its facilities…”
Those who banned “Mis-education” obviously didn’t read it closely because Woodson’s most intense criticism falls on the failures of Blacks not whites. One chapter in the book is entitled “The Educated Negro Leaves the Masses.”
As perplexing as it is to identify the rationale and reasons prison officials have for banning a book like “Mis-education,” it’s even more baffling why prison officials have banned Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine and Essence magazine.
Earlier this month, the Harrisburg Patriot-News newspaper published an article examining the arbitrariness of DoC banning procedures.
That article reported that prison officials banned a book titled “Astral Travel for Beginners” presumably fearing inmates could employ the technique to escape — albeit leaving their bodies behind since astral projection is out-of-body flight.
And that article referenced officials banning a state-funded tourism brochure claiming it advocated insurrection and barring the State Employees’ Retirement Code claiming it was evidence of criminal activity.
From April 2008 to October 2009, prison officials banned 37 newspapers, 203 magazines, 17 newsletters and over 670 books, according to an account written by inmate Reginald Lewis. Prison officials, Lewis wrote, want “to nail shut our only little dusky window to the world.”
Books written by one acclaimed Pennsylvania author are on the DoC’s banned list. That author is journalist and inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal.
While Abu-Jamal’s books do not advocate violence or other activities prohibited by DoC publications banning directives, it’s easy to understand prison officials seeing Abu-Jamal’s piercing critiques as providing a “road-map” for mental liberation since maps (geographic) are banned items for inmates.
Last Friday, Abu-Jamal laughed with two visitors from Germany telling them about the bizarre banning practices. Abu-Jamal is now held in a state prison near Hazelton, Pa., after implementation last December of a court ruling converting his death sentence to life without parole.
In the late 1980s Abu-Jamal mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against prison authorities for barring his receipt of a newspaper published by a socialist organization.
Prison authorities barred that newspaper by speciously deeming it a “danger” to prison security, despite their allowing non-isolation-cell inmates to receive white racist hate literature and pornography.
Those racist and pornographic publications then approved for inmates clearly harmed security throughout the prison system by spurring interracial tensions and homosexual rapes.
Conversely, a leftist newspaper sent to one inmate in death-row isolation presented no real “potential threat to security” — a principal reason frequently cited for banning a publication.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.