Human Rights Archive Blog Posts
The Incarceration Collections at the Rubenstein: The Role of Reading and Writing in the History of Prisoners’ Rights Movements
The popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black, based on the memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, has brought renewed attention to the conditions inside U.S. women’s prisons. While prison reform has not been contemporarily understood as a priority of the LGBTQ and feminist communities, the special collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, illustrate the degree to which prison reform and anti-prison activism have, since the 19th century, operated as a cornerstone of both LGBTQ and feminist movements.
In the 19th century, charity efforts led by white middle-class feminists led to the creation of prison reform organizations such as the Women’s Prison Association (WPA) and the Gilbert Library and Prisoners’ Aid Society. These organizations advocated for separate women’s reformatories, the decriminalization of prostitution, rehabilitation programs for former inmates, and the creation and expansion of prison libraries.
These early reform efforts are reflected in the ledger and scrapbook of Linda Gilbert, the founder and president of the Gilbert Library and Prisoners’ Aid Society. The ledger details Gilbert’s fundraising efforts on behalf of the organization and the expenses it incurred from roughly 1868 to 1894, as it helped to establish libraries in institutions such as the New York House of Detention, Ludlow St. Jail, and Sing Sing Female Prison. A pamphlet included in the Linda Gilbert scrapbook speaks to the particular significance of prison libraries and literature to reformers of this period, who saw increasing literacy among prisoners and increasing access to reading material as central to their moral improvement.Linda Gilbert account and scrapbook, 1894
The incarceration collections held in the Rubenstein Library, however, reflect the importance of circulating periodicals to prison reform efforts more generally, and the changing role of reading and writing in prison reform movements over time. In the 1960’s and 70’s, prison libraries and education programs helped to instigate an expanding prisoners’ rights movement both within and beyond prison walls. These efforts are reflected in several women’s prison newsletters and pamphlets that were published by lesbian feminist organizations in the late 20th century, including “No More Cages” and “Through the Looking Glass,” which are held in the Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance Periodicals Collection and the Women’s and Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Movements (LGBTQ) Periodicals Collection, respectively.
These newsletters were the collaborative projects of lesbian feminist and anti-prison activists in the late twentieth century in the context of neo-liberal economic policies, intensifying restrictions on access to welfare, and a corresponding rise in incarceration rates. The newsletters that grew out of these coalitions often aimed their critiques at increasing restrictions on access to welfare that, while initiated by the Nixon administration, were part of a larger conservative backlash against the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 that continued through the 1990’s, making women of color, in particular, vulnerable to mass incarceration.
“Break ‘de Chains of U.S. Legalized Slavery,” a joint publication between the Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists’ Prison Book Project and inmates at the North Carolina Correctional institute for women, documents a prison rebellion at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women in 1975 that began as a work stoppage in the prison laundry. The pamphlet not only critiques healthcare and labor conditions in the prison, but contests media accounts of the rebellion itself. Additionally, the Rubenstein Library also holds a publication from Action for Forgotten Women, a feminist organization that was also active in the Triangle in the 1970’s.
Gay and lesbian publications such as Feminary, Lesbian Tide, RFD, and Gay Community News, which frequently reported on conditions inside prisons and incidents of police brutality; gave advice to gay and lesbian readers about how to protect themselves from law enforcement; and published letters from prisoners also circulated widely both inside and outside of prisons during these period. These publications helped to galvanize support for prisoners, and encouraged readers to understand the policing and criminalization of gender and sexual non-normativity as intersecting with the policing and criminalization of people of color, immigrants, and the poor.
More recently, zines distributed by prison books programs, anti-prison zine distros, and collectively owned bookstores and activist centers have done similar work, attempting to fill a gap left by increasingly restrictive policies and funding for prison libraries and education.
Many of the most widely circulating zines are included in the Incarceration Zine Collection, part of the Human Rights Archive, which was acquired from the Chicago Anarchist Black Cross Zine Distro. The collection spans the years from 1995 to 2007, and includes 103 zines distributed inside and outside of jails and prisons, with writing by notable inmates and anti-prison activists, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acoli, Ashanti Alston Omowali, David Gilbert and his son, Chesa Boudin, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, Dennis Kyne, Anthony Rayson, Bobby Sands, Sean Swain, and Harold H. Thompson. Zines related specifically to the concerns of women and LGBTQ people, including The Invisibility of Women Prisoners’ Resistance, Reaching through the Bars, Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, and Queers Bash Back can be found in the Bingham Center Women’s Zine Collection.The Incarceration Zine Collection
These resources offer researchers insight into the dialogue amongst prison reformers and anti-prison activists both inside and outside of prison, and into the particular role of reading and writing in the expansion of prison reform and prisoners’ rights movements.
Submitted by – Jennifer Ansley, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow, Thompson Writing Program, firstname.lastname@example.org
I am Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert, a New York-based journalist-filmmaker born in Peru. I am currently co-directing and producing Uchuraccay, an investigative, human rights documentary for my company, Quinoa Films Inc.
The documentary attempts to find answers related to the assassinations of eight journalists and their guide in 1983 in Uchuraccay, a hamlet in the Andes of Peru. The murders occurred amidst warfare between the Maoist group, Shining Path, and Peruvian military forces. As part of my investigation of the case, I found valuable material among the Coletta Youngers Papers at the Human Rights Archive in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.Map of Peru showing location of Uchuraccay.
In the process of this ten-year investigation, I have found a large amount of information which at first did not stand out due to the complexity of the case. In February 2015, I found a copy of the original report on the assassinations filed by the government-appointed investigative commission in March of 1983. The group was led by Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa. According to the commission’s findings, the villagers of Uchuraccay were the sole culprits of the murders. Furthermore, the report fails to cite any military presence in the area when the murders took place.
This report was based on testimony given to the commission by the military chief of Ayacucho, the capital city of Huamanga Province, where Uchuraccay is located. He stated that the last military flight to the area took place on Sunday, January 23, 1983. His testimony conflicts with information I found in an article published on January 27th of the same year in the leading newspaper, El Comercio. The article, based on information received from the same military headquarters, indicates that a group of military and police officials arrived in the area from Lima on January 26th. Around noon, the group visited Uchuraccay, among other areas. This was the very day that the journalists arrived in Uchuraccay and were allegedly murdered around 4 p.m.
The discrepancy only hit me after I found and read the investigative report this past February. Had I not found this particular document in the Coletta Youngers Papers, it would have taken me longer to connect the dots.
A friend I met on my last trip to Lima in January of 2014 had mentioned that Javier Azcue, the journalist who wrote the story in El Comercio, had told him about the importance of that visit, and that no journalist had taken note of it. I was not sure what he was referring to until I re-read the official report at the Rubenstein.
On January 30, 1983, the date of the exhumation of the eight journalists’ bodies, villagers in Uchuraccay told a journalist who spoke Quechua, one of the main Peruvian indigenous languages, that the soldiers had told them to kill any stranger who arrived in the community on foot, and that they should remove their eyes and cut out their tongues while they were still alive. Apparently that did not happen, as indicated by the newspapers clippings I found among the Coletta Youngers Papers. While at the Rubenstein, I found some enlarged newspapers clippings of La Republica that showed close-up photos taken the day the bodies were exhumed. The photographs show the faces of five of the eight murdered journalists. As gruesome as these images are, they show two of the journalists with eyes half-closed and intact, and three with their eyes closed but without signs of having been removed, as some of the villagers had previously stated.Photocopy of article from La Republica. From the Coletta Youngers Papers.
Previously I had only heard the recordings of the villagers’ testimonies in their native Quechua, along with a transcript translated into Spanish. I was therefore able to recognize one of the villager’s photo and name in the newspaper clipping.
Post contributed by Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert, Rubenstein Library researcher, journalist, and filmmaker.
The post Human Rights Archive Collection Sheds Light on 1983 Assassination of Peruvian Journalists appeared first on The Devil's Tale.
The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University has received a grant of $200,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support Voices of Change: Preserving and Presenting Radio Haiti. This two-year project, set to begin in July 2015, will preserve and make widely available the written- and spoken-word archives of Radio Haiti Inter, the country’s oracle of democracy from the late 1960s until its closure in 2003. The announcement of the award coincides with the fifteen year anniversary of the assassination of the station’s owner and Haiti’s most prominent journalist, Jean Dominique, and amidst continuing news coverage about the ongoing trial of his accused murderers.Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas at Radio Haiti Inter, 1995
The Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library received the archives of Radio Haiti in late 2013 as a gift from Michèle Montas, the station’s co-anchor and widow of Dominique. “To me, Duke University was the most welcoming environment for these unique archives, with knowledgeable teams of scholars and archivists able to preserve the past and help to use that recent past as a tool to re- imagine the future,” commented Montas about her decision to place the archives at Duke.
As evidenced in the more than 3,000 recordings and 70 linear feet of paper records comprising the collection, Radio Haiti distinguished itself from other media outlets in Haiti by covering not only events in Port-au-Prince but news from the rural areas of Haiti, including a grassroots democratic movement that eventually overthrew the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986. It was the first independent radio station in Haiti, and the first to broadcast in the language of the people, Haitian Creole, instead of the French spoken only by Haiti’s elite.
The collection is one of the most important and comprehensive resources available for studying and understanding the recent history of Haiti. Primary materials related to Haiti are relatively rare, and the archives of Radio Haiti are particularly distinct both for the depth and breadth of their coverage. According to Laurent Dubois, project advisor and Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke, “The Radio Haiti Archives represent a tremendous resource for scholars, educators, and the general public interested in culture and politics in Haiti from the late 1970s to the present. Under the leadership of Jean Dominique and Michèle Montas, the station served as a critical voice for reportage, debate, editorials, and news for several decades.” Access to these important primary materials will allow scholars to write the history of the country in nuanced and participatory ways.As part of preparing the grant proposal, Library staff completed a pilot project cleaning and digitizing a selection of tapes from the Radio Haiti Archives.
Grant funding will support a full-time project archivist fluent in both Haitian Creole and French to oversee the arrangement, description, digitization and preservation of these materials. To support multilingual and international research, audio recordings will be described in French, Haitian Creole, and English, and will be made freely available online via Duke’s Digital Collections, the Digital Public Library of America, and the Digital Library of the Caribbean.
In order to promote easy access to these materials in Haiti, the Library will partner with the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke and FOKAL (La Fondation Connaissance et Liberté/Fondasyon Konesans Ak Libète), a community organization in Haiti, to place digital copies of the recordings in libraries throughout Haiti. The team will also explore creating podcasts from the recordings to allow for easier access in regions with intermittent internet connectivity.
The Radio Haiti collection is a singular resource supporting a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the last 50 years’ of Haiti’s history. By preserving and making accessible these archives, Duke University Libraries seeks to advance the dialogue not only about Haiti’s past but also about its future.
Those interested in learning more about the archives of Radio Haiti are encouraged to visit the pilot site developed collaboratively between the Forum for Scholars and Publics and the Library at http://radiohaitilives.com/. This site includes access in Creole and English to all the recordings reformatted as part of the planning phase of the grant.
Post contributed by Kat Stefko, Head of Technical Services.
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