The prisoners filling the cells of New York’s Attica prison in 1971 faced inhumane conditions. They earned 56 cents per day for manual labor in searing workshops, were only allowed one bar of soap a month and could only shower once every two weeks. They were not allowed to read what they wanted to read and there was no due process in parole hearings. The prison population was largely black and Hispanic, controlled by an all-white guard staff. After years of progress by civil rights activists and the black power movement, the authorities across America were beginning to push back.
When tempers at Attica reached a boiling point on September 9, the prisoners erupted in a full-fledged rebellion, taking over the prison and holding it for four days, along with several guards who had been taken hostage. But when the negotiations broke down over the point of amnesty for violence conducted during the take-over of the complex, the mood in and outside the prison soured. By the time state troopers and police forces had retaken Attica by force on the morning of September 13, ten hostages and twenty-nine inmates had died.
In this video produced by The Nation‘s Frank Reynolds and Liliana Segura, some of those involved in the uprising and its aftermath—lawyer Elizabeth Fink, former national guardsman Tad Crawford and former Attica prisoners Carlos Roche and Joseph “Jazz” Hayden—recount what happened during those days forty years ago, and examine some of the repercussions still being felt from the police attack. For more, read Segura’s Attica at 40 in this week’s issue of the magazine and asha bandele’s After the Attica Uprising. For more from Tad Crawford, read his account of the raid at Guernica Magazine.
—Anna Lekas Miller