UMass Amherst Libraries Present 13th Social Change Colloquium, ‘Fighting Legal Lynching in the South - The Alabama Case of Johnny ‘Imani’ Harris’
The Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives Research Center at the UMass Amherst Libraries will present the 13th Social Change Colloquium “Fighting Legal Lynching in the South - The Alabama Case of Johnny 'Imani' Harris,” Wednesday, Oct. 4, from 4-6 p.m. The event featuring Thomas N. Gardner, Robert Widdell and Amilcar Shabazz will be held in the W. E. B. Du Bois Library on the Lower Level.
Johnny ‘Imani’ Harris was a Black inmate sentenced to five life terms for four small robberies and an alleged rape in 1970 in Alabama. He was sentenced to the brutal Atmore Prison, where he experienced extreme racism, poor medical care, overcrowding and slave wages. In 1972, the inmates organized a group called Inmates for Action (IFA) and led a work stoppage of over 1,200 prisoners. The prisoners were beaten by guards and the strike leaders were placed in isolation. Two years later, in 1974, an IFA member was beaten to death by guards. The prisoners reacted by capturing a cellblock and taking two guards hostage. In the ensuing take-back by the prison, a guard and IFA leader were killed. Harris and others were charged with the guard’s death; Harris was subsequently convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.
In the wake of this incident, the Atmore-Holman Brothers Defense Committee and the Committee to Defend Johnny Imani Harris and Stop the Death Penalty were formed to support Harris and his fellow prisoners. Gardner, a seasoned Southern civil rights activist, was recruited to become the lead organizer of the Committee to Defend Johnny Imani Harris and Stop the Death Penalty and worked to bring international attention to the Harris case, as well as other incidents of racist political and judicial repression.
The UMass Amherst Libraries invite the university community to celebrate the donation of Gardner’s personal archive of material related to the case to the Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives with a talk and moderated discussion of the history of the case. Light refreshments will be served and items from the collection will be on display. Gardner’s talk will be followed by a panel discussion between Gardner and Widdell, professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. Shabazz, professor of African American Studies at UMass Amherst, will moderate the discussion.
This event is presented in partnership with the Departments of Afro-American Studies, Communications and Journalism.