Ain't Scared of Your Jail: Arrest, Imprisonment, and the Civil Rights Movement

Ain't Scared of Your Jail: Arrest, Imprisonment, and the Civil Rights Movement

Ain't Scared of Your Jail: Arrest, Imprisonment, and the Civil Rights Movement

Ain't Scared of Your Jail: Arrest, Imprisonment, and the Civil Rights Movement

Synopsis

Imprisonment became a badge of honor for many protestors during the civil rights movement. With the popularization of expressions such as "jail-no-bail" and "jail-in," civil rights activists sought to transform arrest and imprisonment from something to be feared to a platform for the cause.

Beyond Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letters from the Birmingham Jail," there has been little discussion on the incarceration experiences of civil rights activists. In her debut book, Zoe Colley does what no historian has done before by following civil rights activists inside the southern jails and prisons to explore their treatment and the different responses that civil rights organizations had to mass arrest and imprisonment.

Colley focuses on the shift in philosophical and strategic responses of civil rights protestors from seeing jail as something to be avoided to seeing it as a way to further the cause. Imprisonment became a way to expose the evils of segregation, and highlighted to the rest of American society the injustice of southern racism.

By drawing together the narratives of many individuals and organizations, Colley paints a clearer picture how the incarceration of civil rights activists helped shape the course of the movement. She places imprisonment at the forefront of civil rights history and shows how these new attitudes toward arrest continue to impact contemporary society and shape strategies for civil disobedience.

Excerpt

On the morning of December 11, 1961, civil rights activist Dr. William Anderson sat down with his family to eat breakfast at home in Albany, Georgia. He was president of the newly formed Albany Movement, an organization established to lead the local black community in protest against segregation and discriminatory employment practices. That morning he explained to his family that the movement was about to undertake a series of mass demonstrations, and that he expected to be in jail by the end of the week. In an interview, he later recalled how difficult it had been to break that news to his family. “You’d have to understand that going to jail was probably one of the most feared things in rural Georgia,” he recalled. “There were many blacks who were arrested in small towns in Georgia never to be heard from again. We have every reason to believe many of these were lynched. So going . . .

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