Edward Ball is the author of Slaves in the Family and The Inventor and the Tycoon: The Murderer Eadweard Muybridge, the Entrepreneur Leland Stanford, and the Birth of the Moving Pictures, among other books. He is a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. (March 2017)
In early January, three weeks into the federal trial of Dylann Roof, who killed nine black people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, a prison guard named Lauren Knapp gave testimony about The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
When I was sixteen and growing up in New Orleans, I stole a bottle of liquor from a supermarket and was caught. The judge sentenced me to the mild punishment for white teens, a tour of the Louisiana State Penitentiary. “Go up to Angola, son,” he said, “then after that your record’s wapped clean.”