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