America Is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s

By Lee Bernstein | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
RADICAL CHIC

JACK HENRY ABBOTT AND THE DECLINE OF
PRISON PROGRAMMING

On a Wednesday evening in 1970, ninety New Yorkers gathered in a Park Avenue apartment for an event that would presage the decline of prisoners’ cultural influence. George Jackson had not yet been killed or the Attica rioters massacred; Angela Davis had not yet been put on trial or Miguel Piñero’s play staged at Lincoln Center. Already, however, concerns that twenty-one members of the New York chapter of the Black Panther Party might face violations of their civil liberties in their upcoming trials led Felicia Bernstein to organize a fundraiser for their legal defense. Unable to make bail on conspiracy charges stemming from an alleged plot to dynamite department stores, police precincts, railroad stations, and the New York Botanical Garden, thirteen members of the Black Panther Party had remained in jail since their arrest the previous April.1 According to a society reporter for the New York Times, the event at the home of Felicia and Leonard Bernstein, the recently retired director of the New York Philharmonic, raised nearly ten thousand dollars.2

Two days later, Daniel Patrick Moynihan submitted his now infamous memorandum to President Richard Nixon suggesting that “the time may have come when the issue of race could benefit from a period of ‘benign neglect.’”3 As proof that the administration should not engage radical activist rhetoric, Moynihan drew Nixon’s attention to the New York Times story. Moynihan wrote, “The Panthers were apparently almost defunct until the Chicago police raided one of their headquarters and transformed them into culture heroes for the white—and black—middle class. You perhaps did not note on the society page of yesterday’s Times that Mrs. Leonard Bernstein gave a cocktail party on

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America Is the Prison: Arts and Politics in Prison in the 1970s
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - We Shall Have Order 19
  • Chapter Two - The Age of Jackson 51
  • Chapter Three - What Works? 75
  • Chapter Four - We Took the Weight 99
  • Chapter Five - Cell Block Theater 129
  • Chapter Six - Radical Chic 151
  • Conclusion 173
  • Notes 185
  • Index 215
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