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.