The Academy-Award winning “Glory” singer brought an important fact to light

John Legend and Common–as expected–won the Academy Award for “Best Original Song” for “Glory,” an impeccably inspiring segment of the Selma score, and the only thing more bone-chilling than their impactful performance may have been John Legend’s acceptance speech.

Thank you. Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights, the act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.

It was both an inspirational moment for all parties involved, and a moment of realization for everyone in the audience, and millions watching from home. Vox went a little into detail about the stats that back up John Legend’s statement.

Here are the numbers:

  • In 1850, there were 872,924 black men (16 or older) who were enslaved in the US, according to the Census.
  • As of December 31, 2013, there were about 526,000 black men in state and federal prisons in the US.
  • In 2013, there were about 877,000 black men on probation, and 280,000 black men on parole (according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics source cited by Politifact).
  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics doesn’t break down jail populations by both race and gender, but 86 percent of all 730,000 jail residents in 2013 were male, and 36 percent were black. So it seems plausible that at least a couple hundred thousand black men are in jail.

The totals: 1.68 million black men are under correctional control in the US, not counting jails. That’s over three times as many black men as were enslaved in 1850.

It’s a pretty damning statement, and while there is a large portion of Black men behind bars for absolutely valid reasons, there’s something to be said about a nation that pours more money and funding into its prison system than its education system.