Henry Minter was working as a farm laborer in Georgia in the 1870s when he met Mary Dotson, a young black servant girl. The couple never married – which would have been illegal at the time – but they stayed together until Henry’s death.
Mary, who was left with their four children, then became a washerwoman in Atlanta. Their daughter, Florence, tried to raise funds by making moonshine. Caught in 1920, she served three years for illegally making liquor.
When Florence’s father was born in the 1850s, the state prison population was largely white. But, by the time she was imprisoned, the majority of prisoners were black.
Newly digitized records from the 19th and 20th centuries reveal the names and the stories of thousands of prisoners like Florence – as well as the racially charged beginnings of mass incarceration in the U.S.