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Ain't Scared of Your Jail

Arrest, Imprisonment, and the Civil Rights Movement

Zoe A. Colley

Publication Year: 2012

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 of 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.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

This work grew out of research at the University of Newcastle. I was funded by the Strang Studentship from Newcastle University, as well as a six-month fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research in London. My research in the United States was made possible by grants from the Studentship...

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pp. 1-9

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...

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1. An American Negro Gandhi?

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pp. 10-23

In 1941, Jay Holmes Smith of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) announced that the organization was undertaking a search for “an American Negro Gandhi” to lead African Americans in a nonviolent battle against racial...

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2. Jail-No-Bail!

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pp. 24-42

“Now it is a nice thing to go to jail,” proclaimed the Afro-American to its readers on March 5, 1960. The rather strange headline referred to the recent sit-in protests against lunch counter segregation, in which large numbers of students had been arrested on such charges as “trespassing” and...

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3. From Sit-Ins to Jail-Ins

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pp. 43-62

By the fall of 1960, the civil rights movement as a whole had talked at length about filling the jails, but very few individuals had actually served a full jail sentence. With a malaise upon the sit-in movement, “jail-in” became the new buzzword for 1961. In addition to a refusal to accept bail, jail-ins sought...

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4. The Middle of the Iceberg

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pp. 63-84

“We are smuggling this note from the drunk tank of the county jail in Magnolia, Mississippi. Twelve of us are here, sprawled out along the concrete bunker . . . I’m sitting here with smuggled pen and paper, thinking a little,...

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5. This Lousy Hole

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pp. 85-101

It was past ten o’clock in the evening of June 21 before James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman were released from Neshoba County Jail in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Hours earlier, they had been stopped by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price on the road between Longdale and Meridian...

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6. You Can’t Jail the Revolution

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pp. 102-115

“This is the 27th time I have been arrested—I ain’t going to jail no more. I ain’t going to jail no more.” This was Stokeley Carmichael’s message to a rally in Greenwood, held to support the 1966 Meredith March. Earlier in the day, he and two other SNCC workers had been arrested by police...

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pp. 116-120

The criminal justice system had been a source of frustration and anger to southern African Americans long before the civil rights protests of the 1960s. The movement’s responses to arrest and imprisonment were, ultimately...


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pp. 121-136


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pp. 137-154


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pp. 155-161

E-ISBN-13: 9780813042640
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813042411

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2012