the attica prison uprising

Activism & Awareness: A Reading List For The Holidays

It’s been a tough year, and many of us are trying to figure out where to go next. But education is essential before we take informed action, so do a deep dive into some of the issues we face in America with these books.

“We are Men! We are not beasts and do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace has set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those are oppressed.”

  Elliot L.D. Barkley, revolutionary inmate, speaking to media during the 1971 Attica Prison Uprising

Today in history: September 9, 1971 – The Attica Prison uprising In the aftermath of the killing of political prisoner George Jackson in California prisoners at Attica State in New York rebelled and seized control of the prison with a list of demands for prison reforms an end to racism and brutality against prisoners. At Attica 54% of the inmates were black while 100% of the guards were white many of whom were openly racist The level of unity that developed among prisoners was nearly unprecedented There were four days of negotiations until then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered state police to take back control of the prison by brutal force When the uprising was over at least 39 people were dead and the prisoners were subjected to extreme brutality and torture The example of the Attica prisoners uniting and standing up for their rights and dignity in the face of such intense repression inspired people around the world

September 9-13, 1971

The first day of the Attica Prison occupation, in which around 1,000 inmates rebelled and took control of Attica Prison in order to secure better living conditions, an end to guard brutality, decent medical care, nutritious food, to get more than one roll of toilet paper a month, to be allowed more than one shower a week, among other demands. Despite its modest goals, the bloody four day uprising ended with 43 dead.

“…A poster-size spread read: ‘Kaddish—For Our Sisters and Brothers who fought and died in War-saw and Attica’. Prominent in the poster was a photograph of a demonstration against the actions taken by Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York to quell the uprising at Attica State Prison in September 1971. Rockefeller authorized the violent retaking of Attica by the National Guard; consequently, forty-three people were killed—all but one by gunfire from the National Guard. And after the National Guard regained control of the prison, numerous African American inmates were tortured by vindictive prison guards.

…Brooklyn Bridge directly connected the Jewish heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising with the African American dead and tortured victims of the Attica prison uprising, and it memorialized them all in equal (and equally religious and equally Jewish) terms. The excerpted Hebrew prayer read in part: 

May God remember the souls of the holy and pure ones who were killed, murdered, slaughtered, burned, drowned, and strangled … May their souls be bound in the bond of light together with the souls of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.”

Torn at the Roots: The Crisis of Jewish Liberalism in Postwar America. Michael E. Staub. 2004.