Mar 03 2016

AAHS Publishes Laura Scott’s Story…

March is Women’s History month. It’s fitting that the Afro-American History Society (AAHS) has published my essay on Laura Scott in its spring newsletter. I am so excited that Laura’s story will be read by a whole new group of people.

You can read the newsletter HERE

Bertillon Card of Laura Scott (1908) - from my collection

Bertillon Card of Laura Scott (1908) – from my collection

 

Jan 29 2016

Marissa Alexander: One year later

I don’t have time to blog anymore. I’m working all of the time and my life is in transition. I miss the daily practice of blogging. I hope to get back to it in a few weeks.

This Wednesday marked the 1 year anniversary of Marissa Alexander’s release from prison into a 2 year sentence of home confinement/probation. She has one more year to go before she can claim more freedom. For the occasion, Marissa recorded a message to her supporters to update us on how she’s been faring. Watch her message below.

Regular readers of this blog know that I spent many months working to help #FreeMarissa as part of the Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander (CAFMA), a group that I co-founded. As a way to honor Marissa and to lift up the organizing of CAFMA, my friend Tom Callahan and I produced a short film that we released on Wednesday afternoon. Watch it below.

I am so grateful that Marissa is out of prison. I look forward to next year when she is free from home confinement and probation. I am grateful to the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign and to everyone who came together to make sure that Marissa could be with her children and family. Thank you.

Jan 20 2016

Laura Scott, Prisoner: An Addendum

I started my research on Laura Scott’s life four years ago. I came across her mug shot, purchased it and was curious about who she was. Last year, a woman named Barbara reached out to ask if she could publish an abridged version of the zine I wrote about Laura’s life in the newsletter of the Afro-American History Society. I agreed of course and it will appear in early March.

Later, Barbara shared some information that she found on Ancestry.com. She’d come across a Laura Scott born Nov. 1867 in Alabama living in Galveston, TX according to the 1900 Census. She was listed as married, a dressmaker and living with a sister-in-law named Mattie Bridges. Barbara added: “Awfully close to the facts about your Laura Scott. If the same person, Laura may have left for California after the devastating hurricane struck the city. Could also explain the train tickets to El Paso.” In my original research, I’d missed this possible clue about Laura Scott. Armed with this new information, I am able to revise what I previously wrote about Laura’s possible travels prior to arriving in California.

Revised Information

Laura Scott was born in Alabama in either 1867 or perhaps 1868. Her exact birth date is unknown because there are various ages listed for her on different documents. In addition, Laura Scott was divorced and the surname she used may not be her maiden name. San Quentin prison records list her age as 37 years old in 1905 and then as 40 years old in 1908. Her Bertillon criminal card lists her age as 40 years old in 1908. However, two years later, the 1910 Federal Census where she appears as a prisoner at San Quentin lists her age as 38. She is identified as being 28 years old in a 1907 Los Angeles Herald newspaper article covering her second trial. Searching Ancestry.com, according to the 1900 Census, a Laura Scott born in November 1867 in Alabama was living in Galveston, Texas with her sister-in-law named Mattie Bridges. It’s possible that this could be the same Laura.

Year: 1900; Census Place: Galveston Ward 7, Galveston, Texas; Roll: 1637; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 0127; FHL microfilm: 1241637

Year: 1900; Census Place: Galveston Ward 7, Galveston, Texas; Roll: 1637; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 0127; FHL microfilm: 1241637

It was common for many people in that era not to be certain of their exact date of birth. The question is whether it is more plausible that Laura Scott would inflate her age when she was younger or whether she would decrease her age as she got older. By all appearances, it seems that Ms. Scott paid close attention to her looks. Her outfits in her mug shot photos attest to this. Therefore one would infer that the San Quentin prison documents and the Bertillon card were probably more accurate than the 1910 Federal Census or a newspaper article.

When Laura Scott left Alabama, she was leaving behind a mostly rural, poor, and deeply racist society. It is possible that Laura left Alabama during a migration of black people that began in the late 19th century. For a black woman like Laura, Alabama must have felt deeply oppressive and constraining. An adventurous woman like Laura Scott would probably have seen Los Angeles as “the land of milk and honey” by contrast. For whatever reason, Laura Scott did not feel a need to remain in Alabama. At some point she made her way out West, perhaps stopping in Galveston, Texas. Information for the 1900 Census was collected in June of the same year. In early September 1900, Galveston was struck by a terrible hurricane that decimated the city and left up to 8,000 dead. If Laura was in fact living in the city at the time, it’s possible that this natural disaster led her to make her way to California. It is unclear, however, when she first arrived in California. We do know that she was living in Los Angeles in  1905 when she was arrested for larceny.

 

Jan 08 2016

Image of the Day: Women’s House of Detention

Women's House of Detention by Nan Lurie (1930s)

Women’s House of Detention by Nan Lurie (1930s)

Dec 26 2015

Video: Blood at the Root Exhibition

I spent part of this year co-curating an exhibition titled “Blood at the Root: Unearthing Stories of State Violence Against Black Women & Girls.” The exhibition focuses our attention on the fact that all #BlackWomensLivesMatter and all #BlackGirlsLivesMatter. Relying on various artifacts, we narrate the experiences and resistance of Black women and girls (trans and non-trans) who have been brutalized, imprisoned and killed by the state and its agents.

Special thanks to my friend Gretchen Hasse for documenting Blood at the Root which closed at the end of October.

Dec 03 2015

A Love Letter to Chicago Organizers…

I haven’t watched the videotaped execution of Laquan McDonald. I’m done with the televised spectacle of Black Death. This is my personal silent protest.

I don’t begrudge those in the streets in fact I am grateful to many of them for not going gently into the quiet night of apathy. My disgust and rage at the fact that the video was publicly released over the objections of Laquan’s family won’t let me engage in the ways that I regularly would.

As I’ve watched the many opportunists vie for facetime over the past few days, it’s become more urgent to narrate a history of continued protest and refusal regarding police violence in Chicago. There are people who have been consistently in the streets in this city for months now. This is a love letter to the incredible anti-police violence and anti-criminalization organizers/activists in Chicago.

For decades, Chicagoans have been organizing against the brutality and impunity of the Chicago Police Department. In the months since the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, young people of color from across the city have consistently organized demonstrations, protests and actions to underscore the violence of the CPD. These protests are the visible outgrowths of grassroots campaigns that have sought and won reparations for police torture survivors, are calling for community control of the police, are insisting on an end to stop and frisk, are demanding a Federal investigation of the Homan Square police facility, are organizing for redirecting funds from police to other social goods, and are seeking individual justice for Damo, Roshad, Rekia, Ronnieman and more.

In other words, day in and day out in this city, we are resisting police violence. The press in Chicago largely ignores this ongoing grassroots organizing but they are quick to jump on moments like the release of the tape depicting Laquan McDonald’s execution to condescend to, moralize against, and incite Chicagoans who are working toward justice. We resist the local press’s continuing efforts to demonize and pathologize young people in this city (especially those who identify as Black and Brown). We are sick of it. We reject their depictions.

So my friend and comrade Tom Callahan and I collaborated on this visual love letter to Chicago organizers. We hope you appreciate it. If you, please share it with others who want to better understand Chicago’s resistance to criminalization and police violence.

Nov 08 2015

Musical Interlude: Ellis Unit One

Sep 01 2015

Image of the Day: Women Prisoners at Sing Sing

Fascinating stereoview print from the 1860s…

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Female Convicts, Sing Sing Prison." New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Female Convicts, Sing Sing Prison.” New York Public Library Digital Collections.