Those Who Know Don't Say

The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State

By Garrett Felber

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5382-2
    Published: January 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5381-5
    Published: January 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5383-9
    Published: November 2019

Justice, Power, and Politics

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Awards & distinctions

2021 Merle Curti Intellectual History Award, Organization of American Historians

Finalist, 2021 Pauli Murray Book Prize, African American Intellectual History Society

Shortlisted, 2020 Museum of African American History Stone Book Award

Challenging incarceration and policing was central to the postwar Black Freedom Movement. In this bold new political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam, Garrett Felber centers the Nation in the Civil Rights Era and the making of the modern carceral state. In doing so, he reveals a multifaceted freedom struggle that focused as much on policing and prisons as on school desegregation and voting rights. The book examines efforts to build broad-based grassroots coalitions among liberals, radicals, and nationalists to oppose the carceral state and struggle for local Black self-determination. It captures the ambiguous place of the Nation of Islam specifically, and Black nationalist organizing more broadly, during an era which has come to be defined by nonviolent resistance, desegregation campaigns, and racial liberalism.

By provocatively documenting the interplay between law enforcement and Muslim communities, Felber decisively shows how state repression and Muslim organizing laid the groundwork for the modern carceral state and the contemporary prison abolition movement which opposes it. Exhaustively researched, the book illuminates new sites and forms of political struggle as Muslims prayed under surveillance in prison yards and used courtroom political theater to put the state on trial. This history captures familiar figures in new ways--Malcolm X the courtroom lawyer and A. Philip Randolph the Harlem coalition builder--while highlighting the forgotten organizing of rank-and-file activists in prisons such as Martin Sostre. This definitive account is an urgent reminder that Islamophobia, state surveillance, and police violence have deep roots in the state repression of Black communities during the mid-20th century.

About the Author

Garrett Felber is assistant professor of history at the University of Mississippi.
For more information about Garrett Felber, visit the Author Page.


“Shows that police departments steeped in cultures of bigotry, and a judicial system that promotes punishment over rehabilitation, were harsh in responding to black protest movements, many of them led by the Nation of Islam. . . . An impressive academic investigation and an appealing contribution to black American history.”--Foreword

“Felber . . . examines how the Nation of Islam, and its growth during the civil rights era, impacted prisons, policing, school desegregation, and voting rights. Drawing on history, law, sociology, and politics, Felber looks at how the Nation impacted the modern carceral state. . . . One can find many books on Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, but Felber's is valuable for its interdisciplinary approach to possible solutions for the carceral state in the 21st century.”--CHOICE

“Felber’s political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam centers the Nation in the US Civil Rights Era and the making of the modern carceral state, seeking to capture the ambiguous place of the Nation—and Black nationalist organizing more broadly—during an era which has come to be defined by nonviolent resistance, desegregation campaigns, and racial liberalism.”--Law & Social Inquiry

"Essential. . . . Felber insists—rightly—on reading prisons and courts as 'sites of activism,' where the legitimacy of the state was challenged, locating litigation alongside hunger strikes, sit-ins, takeovers of solitary confinement, street protests, and prison uprisings as acts of resistance within a broader Black Freedom struggle—acts to which the state responded, often with crushing force."--American Religion

“…Felber’s excellent book broadens scholars’ view of the Black freedom movement—widening its cast of characters, expanding its sites of struggle—and collapses false dichotomies between civil rights and Black Power.” – Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

"Richly researched and told with elegance and sophistication, this stunning book is the definitive account of the Nation of Islam’s political activism. Felber provides a revelatory look at the urgency and far-reaching influence of this controversial, pivotal Black nationalist organization."--Dan Berger, author of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era