The University of Massachusetts Amherst
Robert S. Cox Special Collections & University Archives Research Center
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Committee to Defend Johnny Imani Harris Collection

Committee to Defend Johnny Imani Harris Collection

1973-1983 Bulk: 1974-1979
5 5 linear feet
Call no.: 1171

Committee to Defend Johnny Imani Harris pamphlet

Administrative records of the Committee to Defend Johnny Imani Harris, which supported efforts to free Imani (aka Johnny Harris) from death row in Alabama in the late 1970s early 1980s. Originally sentenced to five life terms for 4 small robberies and an alleged rape in 1970, Imani was eventually given the death penalty under Alabama’s capital offenses law due to an inadequate defense by his court appointed lawyers. Harris was put in 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. Imani was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

The Committee worked throughout the 1970’s and 1980s for Harris’ freedom through endorsements, fundraising, and networking to national and international groups. Thanks to the participation of Amnesty International and other groups, Harris’s murder conviction was dismissed in 1987 after a new trial and he was given parole.

The records reflect the dedicated work of Tom Gardner, a civil rights and union organizer/journalist, and others on the Committee who tirelessly toiled on behalf of Harris to secure his freedom. Contained in the collection are the fruit of those efforts, including: fliers, clippings, correspondence, photographs, donor appeals, posters, buttons, legal documents, and additional administrative records of the Committee as well as material from Inmates for Action.

Gift of Tom Gardner, 2022

Subjects

African American prisonersDeath row inmatesPolitical prisoners--United StatesPrisoners--United StatesPrisons

Contributors

Johnny Imani HarrisThomas N. Gardner

Types of material

CorrespondenceFliersMailing listsPamphletsPosters
Weather Underground Collection

Weather Underground Organization Collection

1918-1978 Bulk: 1973-1978
5 boxes 2.1 linear feet
Call no.: MS 1145

The 1960s and 1970s were decades rich with activist organizations intent on radically transforming U.S. politics and society as well as striving to end racial and gender inequality. One such group was Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Launched in 1962, with the infamous Port Huron Statement, SDS helped the nascent anti-Vietnam war movement gain traction in 1965 by organizing the first national demonstration in Washington, D.C. Over the course of the next four years, the organization grew at a rapid pace, claiming over 300 chapters under its moniker. Arguments over tactics and strategy culminated during an eventful national convention in June of 1969 in which three factions, all claiming to represent “the true SDS”, split the organization apart.
               
The most notorious of these factions was the Weathermen, (later renamed the less patriarchal Weather Underground Organization [WUO]). The WUO aimed to spark revolution in the United States, initially, through the use of targeted political bombings, political communiques, and support of Black liberation movements. Following the March 1970 accidental self-bombing of three of its New York collective members, Ted Gold, Diana Oughton, and Terry Robbins in a New York townhouse owned by Cathy Wilkerson’s father, the organization opted to conduct more targeted bombings where no one would be hurt.
               
After two-to three-years of high-profile bombings, including the U.S. Capitol, Pentagon, corporate buildings, and law enforcement institutions, with minimal impact, the organization began to consider how to regain influence with the greater Left. This began WUO’s “inversion” phase which included the publication of a book/manifesto titled Prairie Fire, the establishment of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, and a periodical, Osawatomie. The WUO’s Central Committee believed that this inversion strategy would allow them to influence and lead the greater anti-war/anti-imperialist movement.

The inversion strategy did not spark the all-encompassing revolution imagined by the WUO and members slowly began to surface, breaking apart the organization in the mid-late 1970s. While the WUO did not accomplish what they set out to do, their extreme tactics and notoriety with the FBI left lasting impressions on American society and the history of activism in the 1970s.
     
This small collection of materials donated by a member of the WUO includes books, pamphlets, manuscripts, notes, military manuals, maps of correctional facilities, and correspondence between members from 1973 to 1978, many of them coded through the use of letters replacing names. It also holds papers critical of  the WUO written by its own members between 1976 and 1978. This represents the period when Clayton Van Lydegaf gathered members in his “Cadre School”, to rigorously analyze and document how the organization fell apart, including a transcript from a recorded interview session in which Bernadine Dohrn repudiated all methods and practices of the WUO. These papers reflect the power struggle seen later within the WUO, as well as the contempt that many of its members grew to nurture for the organization as it strayed from its original purpose.

The collection also contains many political papers on subjects such as women and their place within the WUO, the anti-fascist movement, Black liberation movements, imperialism, and the origins of fascism. It also holds accounts of the WUO’s history, along with critiques, notes, and adaptations for their manifesto, Prairie Fire.

Gift of Jeff Perry, 2021

Subjects

FeminismImperialismRevolutionariesWeather Underground Organization--History

Types of material

CorrespondenceManuals (instructional materials)Notes (documents)Pamphlets