Ain't Scared of Your JailArrest, Imprisonment, and the Civil Rights Movement

Ain't Scared of Your JailArrest, Imprisonment, and the Civil Rights Movement

Zoe A. Colley

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780813042411

Publisher: University Press of Florida


During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, thousands of people were incarcerated in southern jails as a result of their involvement with the civil rights movement. This book follows those activists inside the jail cell to explore the trials and tribulations of life as a civil rights prisoner. It highlights the conditions inside southern jails, activists’ interactions with “ordinary” prisoners, and the importance of race and gender in shaping the prisoners’ treatment. It also reveals how, beyond the jail cell, the movement sought to counter such repression via an ideology that embraced imprisonment as a mark of honor and a statement of resistance, while also seeking to fill the jails and thereby place financial pressure upon local government; this was encapsulated in the term “jail-no-bail.” Organizations and individuals regularly testified to the importance of incarceration as a form of induction into the movement. However, after 1963, as activists faced increasingly serious charges and served longer sentences, many struggled to maintain their commitment to the philosophy behind jail-no-bail. Beneath movement rhetoric, activists found that the earlier exuberance for jail sentences did not fit with the conditions under which they worked. Ain’t Scared of Your Jail concludes by examining the shift toward black power in the post-1965 era and demonstrates how activists, now freed from an earlier focus upon integration and respectability, began to challenge mainstream definitions of criminality to claim that black prisoners were not so much criminals as victims of a racist social structure.