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The Black Child-Savers

Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice

During the Progressive Era, a rehabilitative agenda took hold of American juvenile justice, materializing as a citizen-and-state-building project and mirroring the unequal racial politics of American democracy itself. Alongside this liberal "manufactory of citizens,” a parallel structure was enacted: a Jim Crow juvenile justice system that endured across the nation for most of the twentieth century.
In The Black Child Savers, the first study of the rise and fall of Jim Crow juvenile justice, Geoff Ward examines the origins and organization of this separate and unequal juvenile justice system. Ward explores how generations of “black child-savers” mobilized to challenge the threat to black youth and community interests and how this struggle grew aligned with a wider civil rights movement, eventually forcing the formal integration of American juvenile justice. Ward’s book reveals nearly a century of struggle to build a more democratic model of juvenile justice—an effort that succeeded in part, but ultimately failed to deliver black youth and community to liberal rehabilitative ideals.

At once an inspiring story about the shifting boundaries of race, citizenship, and democracy in America and a crucial look at the nature of racial inequality, The Black Child Savers is a stirring account of the stakes and meaning of social justice.

344 pages | 1 line drawing, 9 halftones, 8 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Black Studies


History: American History


“Carefully researched and brilliantly written, criminologist Geoff K. Ward’s The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice takes a critical view of American juvenile justice through the lens of African American history. His impressive work chronicles the influence of race and racism in the formation of American juvenile justice policy and practice, carefully weaving together the history of the system with the struggle for civil rights and racial inclusion. . . . This book offers the keen insight and analysis that the field will need in order to understand its current struggles with racial inequality and injustice.”

Social Service Review

“Ward’s book fills an important gap in the literature, breaking new ground on a topic that is important both historically and in terms of contemporary policy and issues. . . . The Black Child-Savers is fascinating, challenging, and thoroughly researched. . .”

Journal of African American History

"Ward offers a compelling account of the leaders of this movement, many of them African American clubwomen such as Josephine Ruffin and Frances Joseph-Gaudet. This is a story that has not been told before. . . . This glaring omission in the historical literature has now been addressed thanks to Ward’s meticulous research."

Bryan Wagner | Journal of American History

“Ward not only adds a much-needed African American perspective to the history of juvenile justice, he changes the way in which we think about the origins, parameters, and goals of juvenile justice. This book should be required reading for scholars across many fields, from criminology and law to modern American history.”

Anthony M. Platt | author of The Child Savers: The Invention of Delinquency

The Black Child-Savers elaborately details how the exclusionary sanctions of the juvenile justice system resulted in African American child and teenage offenders being incarcerated with adults and consigned to chain gangs and other exploitative labor regimes. With great insight, Geoff K. Ward documents the oppositional racial project pursued by the black child-savers movement and expertly lays the groundwork for the much-needed activism to chart a more promising future for delinquent and dependent African American youth.”

V. P. Franklin | University of California, Riverside

“Geoff Ward helps lift the veil that has hidden southern penal practices from our national narrative of progressive criminal justice reforms.  Black Child-Savers is essential to understanding the unfinished agenda of civil rights for youth of color in America’s criminal justice systems.”

Jonathan Simon | author of Poor Discipline: Parole and the Social Control of the Underclass

"In The Black Child Savers, Professor Ward tells a compelling, eye-opening story that has never been told before: the history of how our country has treated black children accused of crime, how the juvenile justice system evolved without black children in mind, and how the vestiges of this history persist in the form of the rampant disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system today. The Black Child Savers is a comprehensive, meticulously researched and eloquently written resource for scholars, teachers, community organizers, families of system-involved youth, attorneys, probation officers, judges, and anyone else who cares about racism in the juvenile justice system and how it came to be so entrenched. It is a major contribution on a missing chapter in juvenile justice."

Robin Walker Sterling | University of Denver

“An excellent, detailed assessment of a serious and persistent racial dilemma for the black community. . . . Anyone interested in racial justice or educational justice must read this work.”

Theory in Action

“Ward offers a significant contribution to this scholarship, one that is national in scope and broad in its chronological and geographic sweep.”

Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

"[The Black Child-Savers] underscore[s] how race has historically been a key factor in the construction of childlikeness and saveability. Black youth were seen as insensate, inferior, more dangerous, and more similar to adult criminals—features that justified their exclusion from the court’s protective possibilities."

Law and Social Inquiry

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow Juvenile Justice


ONE / Citizen Delinquent: Race, Liberal Democracy, and the Rehabilitative Ideal

TWO / No Refuge under Law: Racialized Foundations of Juvenile Justice Reform

THREE / Birth of a Juvenile Court

FOUR / The Social Organization of Jim Crow Justice


FIVE / Uplifting Black Citizens Delinquent: The Vanguard Movement, 1900–1930

SIX / Institutionalizing Racial Justice: The Black Surrogate Parental State, 1930–65

SEVEN / The Early Spoils of Integration

Conclusion: The Declining Significance of Inclusion



History of Education Society: History of Education Society Outstanding Book Award

American Society of Criminology: Michael J. Hindelang Award

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