First drafted during the author’s imprisonment in the 1930s, Chester Himes’s autobiographical prison novel, Yesterday Will Make You Cry, was originally published in expurgated form as Cast the First Stone in 1953. This essay situates both versions in relation to contemporary sociological and popular discourses of state violence and racial liberalism. A pervasive midcentury ideology posited that rationalizing state violence could resolve both social disorder and racial injustice. I argue that Yesterday’s representation of the excessiveness of prison violence undermines the state’s claims to rationality and moderation and that the book’s exploration of queer, criminalized, and racialized subjectivity resists the pathologizing discourses that legitimized state violence. The novel’s transformation did not merely excise its sexual content, then, but greatly diminished its political disruptiveness. Cast the First Stone labors to contain the “extreme sense of protest” that Yesterday dramatizes so powerfully.

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