Reprinted from Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman. Copyright © 2019 by Saidiya Hartman. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. It was past midnight and Harriet Powell was still on the dance floor. At first, she couldn’t make sense of what the police officer said. She was under arrest? For what? The music blaring in the background and the couples dancing around her offered no hint that she would spend the next few years in and out of prison and that a decade would pass before she received the gift of her free papers. Who would have expected that involuntary servitude was the price for two nights of love in a rented room in a Harlem tenement? Or that unregulated black movement was still a risk, a threat, and a crime? Or that the “rebellious flame” of her “nocturnal wanderings” and sexual variance made her a potential prostitute and vagrant? How had the state come to set its sights on a seventeen-year-old black girl and make her the target of its violence? Even after the police officer uttered the words: You are under arrest, she protested, insisting that she had done… Read full this story
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