Riot and Reclamation

Black Women, Prison Labor, and Resistive Desires

Plans for Wetumpka State Penitentiary, near Wetumpka, Alabama. Drawings by J. E. Bozeman, from the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

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Riot and Reclamation

Black Women, Prison Labor, and Resistive Desires

by Micah Khater
Southern Cultures, Vol. 27, No. 3: The Abolitionist South

“Black women’s labor organizing from within prison produced a movement where there was never meant to be one.”

Breaking through the discord, there was a harmony: hundreds of tables and chairs scratching against the floor. Trays of corn bread sliding across the tables, uneaten. It was not just the sound, but the smell, too. Spoiled meat and heaps of scraps sunk into the walls amid the summer’s heat. On any day, the carefully choreographed movement of hundreds of women leaving the Wetumpka State Penitentiary dining hall was loud. On July 19, 1934, it was also mutinous.1

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