Ain't Scared of Your Jail:
Arrest, Imprisonment, and the Civil Rights Movement

Zoe A. Colley

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"Examines the history of the civil rights movement and the criminal justice system beyond the court rooms and into the arrests, jail cells, and prisons that were the locus of grassroots protests and organizing."--Robert Cassanello, coeditor of Migration and the Transformation of the Southern Workplace since 1945

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.

Zoe A. Colley is lecturer in American history at the University of Dundee.

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"Demonstrates how the jail, no bail tactic moved the movement from a response to a crisis to an event that drew media notice and focused the country's attention on the injustice of segregation." CHOICE

“An engaging introduction to the relationship between civil rights activism and arrest.” Journal of American History

“An important and nuanced look at a significant but little known aspect of the struggle for black equality.” The Journal of Southern History

“[Argues] that going to jail was an integral part of putting one’s body on the line in protests across the South….A revealing portrait of activism that almost always took place beyond the scope of the camera lens, and is all the more powerful for this unveiling.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

“Does a masterful job providing insight to the role that the criminal justice system played in maintaining Jim Crow in the American South during the middle twentieth century… accurately portrays the post-World War II phase of the civil rights movement in the United States of America.” The Griot: Journal of African American Studies

“The first book-length treatment of the civil rights movement’s strategic repurposing of the prison.” Journal of American Studies

An interesting new take on the Civil Rights Movement. . . .[that] incorporates well-known stories and actors of the Civil Rights Movement with lesser-known events and people into a cohesive narrative that centers on the idea of imprisonment.-- Florida Historical Quarterly

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