The Criminalization of Black Children

Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899–1945

By Tera Eva Agyepong

196 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 7 halftones, 2 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3644-3
    Published: April 2018
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3865-2
    Published: April 2018
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3866-9
    Published: March 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5334-9
    Published: March 2018

Justice, Power, and Politics

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Awards & distinctions

2018 Grace Abbott Book Prize, Society for the History of Children and Youth

In the late nineteenth century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children’s inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation’s first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great Migration, notions of inherent childhood innocence and juvenile justice were circumscribed by race. In documenting how blackness became a marker of criminality that overrode the potential protections the status of “child” could have bestowed, Tera Eva Agyepong shows the entanglements between race and the state’s transition to a more punitive form of juvenile justice.

In this important study, Agyepong expands the narrative of racialized criminalization in America, revealing that these patterns became embedded in a justice system originally intended to protect children. In doing so, she also complicates our understanding of the nature of migration and what it meant to be black and living in Chicago in the early twentieth century.

About the Author

Tera Eva Agyepong is assistant professor of history at DePaul University.
For more information about Tera Eva Agyepong, visit the Author Page.


“Provides a case study on race in Chicago’s juvenile justice system throughout the first half of the twentieth century. . . . Highlights the particular vulnerabilities that young African Americans face in a legal system supposedly designed to protect children’s innocence.”--Journal of African American History

“Brings significant insights to the fields of juvenile justice, childhood studies, and African American history.”--American Historical Review

“As a solid basis for social work advocacy . . . [The Criminalization of Black Children] offers a well-organized collection of historical accounts of how the juvenile justice system of Chicago created a racialized set of structures and procedures for the engagement and treatment of Black children during the domestic migration of Black families.”--Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work

“Agyepong’s innovative take on the role of black children in shaping juvenile justice procedures is critically important for so many fields of history, including African American history, incarceration studies, and the history of gender and sexuality.”--Marcia Chatelain, Georgetown University

“Agyepong makes a compelling case for the centrality of black youth to understandings of delinquency, dependency, and, by extension, criminality at the foundations of the juvenile justice system.”--Davarian L. Baldwin, author of Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life