<html>
  <head>

    <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
  </head>
  <body bgcolor="#FFFFFF" text="#000000">
    <div id="container" class="container font-size5">
      <div dir="ltr" style="display: block;" id="reader-header"
        class="header"> <b><small><small><small><a
href="http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32826-art-exhibit-on-black-panther-challenges-library-patrons-to-face-violence-of-mass-incarceration"
                  id="reader-domain" class="domain"><a class="moz-txt-link-freetext" href="http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32826-art-exhibit-on-black-panther-challenges-library-patrons-to-face-violence-of-mass-incarceration">http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32826-art-exhibit-on-black-panther-challenges-library-patrons-to-face-violence-of-mass-incarceration</a></a></small></small></small></b>
        <h1 id="reader-title">Art Exhibit on Black Panther Challenges
          Library Patrons to Face Violence of Mass Incarceration</h1>
        <div id="reader-credits" class="credits">Chris Steele<br>
          <span class="itemDateCreated">19 September 2015 </span><br>
        </div>
      </div>
      <div class="content">
        <div style="display: block;" dir="ltr" id="moz-reader-content">
          <div
xml:base="http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32826-art-exhibit-on-black-panther-challenges-library-patrons-to-face-violence-of-mass-incarceration"
            id="readability-page-1" class="page">
            <div class="itemFullText">
              <p>Libraries are celebrated for serving the community, for
                being hubs for ideas, conversations and community
                gatherings. Libraries were born out of a desire to share
                resources for a collective use. But in the United
                States, the history of libraries is also intimately
                enmeshed with the history of racial segregation and
                white supremacy.</p>
              <p>Given this history, it was powerful when a recent art
                exhibit at the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library
                pushed patrons to face the contemporary violence of
                racism and mass incarceration in the United States.</p>
              <p>The art exhibit, "<a target="_blank"
                  href="http://www.bklynlibrary.org/events/76759-featuring-house-her">#76759:
                  Featuring the House that Herman Built</a>," was a
                collaboration between artist Jackie Sumell and the late
                Herman Wallace, with support from the Brooklyn Public
                Library's outreach services department. Having finished
                its run at the Brooklyn library in June, the exhibit is
                now headed to the American Visionary Art Museum in
                Baltimore, Maryland, for a one-year show dedicated to
                illustrating stories of hope.</p>
              <p>
              </p>
              <h3>Library exhibits have been put in the spotlight for
                upholding free speech and creating conversations.</h3>
              <p>The origins of the artistic project began in 2003, when
                Sumell contacted Wallace, a Black Panther Party activist
                and member of the Angola Three (Herman Wallace, Albert
                Woodfox and Robert King Wilkerson), who was in solitary
                confinement for 30 years at the time. Sumell posed the
                question to Wallace, "What kind of house does a man who
                has lived in a 6-by-9-foot cell for over 30 years dream
                of?" Wallace and Sumell's correspondences blossomed into
                the project "The House That Herman Built," which is now
                an <a target="_blank" href="http://hermanshouse.org/">internationally
                  recognized exhibition</a>, book and <a
                  target="_blank"
                  href="http://hermanshousethefilm.com/the-film/">film</a>.</p>
              <p>"We also received feedback that protested BPL honoring
                the memory of a convicted murderer and for glamorizing
                jail and prison life," Higgins said. "These opinions are
                important contributions to the debate as well."</p>
              <p>Reflecting on the feedback, Higgins said, "I think we
                did a pretty good job in staying as neutral as possible
                and presenting the public with an experience that
                allowed them to come up with their own opinions. I also
                disagree that children shouldn't be exposed to this
                issue. There are 2.7 million children in this country
                who have a parent in jail or prison as it is, so I
                imagine this isn't completely unfamiliar to many
                children already."</p>
              <p><strong>The History of Libraries in the Segregated US</strong></p>
              <p>While most people commonly view libraries as an epithet
                of inclusiveness and democracy, this wasn't always the
                case in the United States. When gazing back at the
                veneer of history, it is important to remember that
                advancements in civil and human rights have improved due
                to organization and resistance from marginalized
                populations demanding equality.</p>
              <p>As noted by Peter Dobkin Hall, "the colonial elite" had
                their own private libraries; it was the "disempowered -
                artisans, farmers, and aspiring professionals, among
                whom the new social and economic forces were awakening
                desires for self-improvement, self-advancement, and
                political influence." <a target="_blank"
                  href="http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/#a1">(1)</a>
                Although debated, the <a target="_blank"
                  href="http://www.ala.org/aboutala/1731">first public
                  library</a> in the United States, the Library Company
                of Philadelphia, was founded in 1731 by Benjamin
                Franklin. In 1828, the Reading Room Society, the <a
                  target="_blank"
href="http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/timeline-in-library-development-for-african-americans/">first
                  social library for African Americans</a> opened in
                Philadelphia, and in 1833, the <a target="_blank"
href="http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/timeline-in-library-development-for-african-americans/">Philadelphia
                  Library Company of Colored Persons</a> was formed.</p>
              <p>In 1954, the <em>Brown v. Board of Education</em>
                Supreme Court decision dismantled the <em>Plessy v.
                  Ferguson</em> Supreme Court ruling from 1896 that
                legalized segregation under the "separate but equal"
                doctrine. Despite the 1954 landmark ruling, libraries in
                the South still remained violently segregated. <em>The
                  Right to Read</em>, by Patterson Toby Graham, tells
                the horrifying story of two African-American ministers,
                W.B. McClain and Quintus Reynolds, who were "knifed,
                chain-whipped, and savagely beaten" on the steps of the
                Carnegie Library in Anniston, Alabama, for trying to
                apply for a library membership in 1963. Despite the
                Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned segregation in
                public places such as libraries, according to Graham,
                "the Alabama Library Association still excluded black
                librarians."</p>
              <p>In 1960, 13 African-American high school students lead
                a direct action "read-in" protest at the segregated <a
                  target="_blank"
href="http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Danville_Civil_Rights_Demonstrations_of_1963#start_entry">Danville
                  Memorial Library in Virginia</a>. The students filed a
                lawsuit in federal district court. Regarding the case, <em>Giles
                  v. Library Advisory Committee of Danville, Virginia</em>,
                the judge ruled in the students' favor stating that
                library segregation was unlawful. <a target="_blank"
                  href="http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/#a2">(2)</a>
                According to Graham, "Danville's white citizens voted
                overwhelmingly in favor of closing the library to avoid
                integration." The 13 high school students paved the way
                for a string of "read-in" protests that made their way
                south to Mississippi and Alabama.</p>
              <p>
              </p>
              <h3>"Solitary confinement, or criminal justice, is not a
                controversial topic in itself. It's much more
                controversial that it doesn't get talked about."</h3>
              <p>Regarding protests in Mississippi to desegregate
                libraries, in her article titled, "Struggles Within:
                Lura G. Currier, the Mississippi Library Commission, and
                Library Services to African Americans," Karen Cook
                notes, "There was fierce resistance from white
                supremacists, and many public libraries in the state
                remained segregated in defiance of federal law well
                after adoption of the Civil Rights Act in 1964." <a
                  target="_blank"
                  href="http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/#a3">(3)</a>
                Cook emphasizes that the American Library Association
                (ALA) "did not speak out against racial discrimination
                within the association until the mid-1960s," but the ALA
                did amend the <a target="_blank"
href="http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/timeline-in-library-development-for-african-americans/">Library
                  Bill of Rights in 1961</a>, adding that "the rights of
                an individual to the use of a library should not be
                denied or abridged because of his race, religion,
                national origins, or political views."</p>
              <p>While it is evident that some libraries kowtowed to
                white supremacists and upheld racist policies by not
                challenging dominant ideologies, it is also evident that
                libraries have been at the forefront of controversy,
                free speech and fostering a dialogue of equality.
                Throughout the years, library displays and exhibits have
                been put in the spotlight for upholding free speech and
                creating conversations. For example, in 1978, Library
                Journal published an article titled "Massacre exhibit
                sparks controversy at UC," detailing how Turkish and
                Armenian students at the University of California,
                Berkeley, complained about the library exhibit and its
                graphic content. Following complaints, the exhibit was
                censored by removing "inflammatory" materials, but after
                protests, the exhibit was returned to its original
                layout. <a
                  href="http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/#a4">(4)</a></p>
              <p>In 1995, an <a target="_blank"
href="http://www.deseretnews.com/article/457498/LIBRARY-OF-CONGRESS-PULLS-PLUG-ON-PLANTATION-EXHIBIT.html?pg=all">exhibit
                  on slavery</a> at the Library of Congress was
                postponed after "objections from some African-American
                staff members" stated that the exhibit lacked
                "historical context" and held "a very narrow approach to
                the kind of architecture and culture of plantation life
                without taking the horrors of slavery into account."</p>
              <p>Another example can be seen in Linda Alexander's
                article "<a target="_blank"
                  href="http://journals.fcla.edu/flalib/article/view/84568">Gay
                  Display Controversy: A Threat to Intellectual Freedom</a>."

                Alexander explained how in 2005, a library employee made
                a display of 20 books on "gay themes for teens" at the
                West Gate Library in Tampa, Florida. After two
                complaints from patrons, the chief librarian from the
                county inspected the display and told the staff it
                needed to be taken down. After complaints, the display
                was put back up near the adult fiction section and
                contained books involving gay themes for adults.</p>
              <p>Thanks to the work of activists over the course of
                library history in the United States - activists who
                challenged power with protests and occupied spaces
                through actions like the Danville Public Library sit-in
                - libraries were eventually desegregated and literacy as
                a civil right was acknowledged. As noted by Patterson
                Toby Graham, considering that white administrators in
                Birmingham, Alabama, had a policy that "determined that
                once black hands had touched a book it could not return
                to general circulation," much has changed over the years
                that has allowed for a greater dialogue of justice to
                take place in libraries.</p>
              <p> <strong>Bringing the Story of Herman Wallace Into the
                  Library</strong></p>
              <p>Just as protesters occupied public libraries to raise
                awareness, art exhibits that occupy public space in
                libraries provide a similar opportunity. The story of
                Herman Wallace builds a much-needed bridge between the
                roots of US racism and the ongoing violence of
                structural, systemic, institutional and explicit racism
                in the United States.</p>
              <p>Wallace began his time in the notorious Louisiana State
                Penitentiary at Angola in 1971 after being convicted of
                armed robbery. Angola Prison's history dates back to
                1880, when Samuel James, a former Confederate major,
                purchased an antebellum plantation called Angola (due to
                the fact that the majority of the former slaves came
                from the African country) and kept prisoners in "<a
                  target="_blank"
                  href="http://www.angolamuseum.org/history/history/">Old
                  Slave Quarters</a>." The prisoners were forced to (and
                still do work) in the sugarcane fields. Scholar Dennis
                Childs' reports in his book <em>Slaves of the State</em>
                that "75 percent to 80 percent" of the prison population
                in Angola is African American. Some <a target="_blank"
href="http://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/10/movies/film-review-of-life-and-death-behind-bars.html">85
                  percent of all prisoners die in Angola</a> - most of
                them were <a target="_blank"
href="https://www.guernicamag.com/features/in-the-prison-of-new-beginnings/">worked
                  to death in the prison's beginnings</a>, circa 1900.
                According to <a target="_blank"
                  href="https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/111813-lwop-complete-report.pdf">current
                  estimates by the American Civil Liberties Union</a>
                (ACLU), "Because of harsh sentencing laws, about 95
                percent of the 5,225 people imprisoned at the Louisiana
                State Penitentiary at Angola will die there. Louisiana
                is the state with the highest number of prisoners
                serving life without parole for nonviolent offenses in
                the United States, with 429 such prisoners, 91 percent
                of whom are Black."</p>
              <p>As noted in a chapter by Dennis Childs in the book <em>Violence
                  and the Body</em>, Angola Penitentiary seems to be
                stuck in time. The prison "stands as a <em>living
                  monument</em> to the timelessness of racial subjection
                in the United States." Childs cites an example from the
                1998 documentary <em>The Farm: Life Inside Angola
                  Prison</em>, where 22-year-old African-American
                prisoner George Crawford "is one of a large group of
                black male prisoners bent over picking one of the
                prison's many crops (which still include cotton) while a
                white guard dressed in camouflage and armed with a
                double barreled shotgun sits on horseback, monitoring
                their every move."</p>
              <p>
              </p>
              <h3>Exhibits and displays in public spaces have the
                opportunity to break us out of our ideological box.</h3>
              <p>In 1971, Wallace and Woodfox established the Black
                Panther Party at Angola. Scott Fleming explained in <em>Liberation,
                  Imagination, and the Black Panther Party</em> that the
                Angola Panthers "risked their lives to protect younger
                and weaker inmates from the rape, prostitution, and sex
                slavery that pervaded prison life." Fleming explained
                that the Panthers sought to unify Black and white
                prisoners to fight for better conditions in the prison,
                noting that this was a tough task "considering that the
                prisoner housing, dining halls, and worksites were still
                racially segregated, with privileged living arrangements
                and work assignments going to white prisoners." Woodfox
                and Wallace were well aware they were being targeted for
                their activism inside the prison.</p>
              <p>Wallace's 41 years of solitary confinement began in May
                1972, when he and three other prisoners were charged
                with the murder of a white guard, Brent Miller. The
                trial has been scrutinized since its inception. Riddled
                with inadequacies, racial bias in the trial (an all
                white jury), corruption and lack of evidence, Wallace
                fought for appeals for decades. For example, Andrew
                Cohen from The Atlantic <a target="_blank"
href="http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/09/did-the-wrong-man-spend-40-years-in-solitary-confinement/279930/">reported</a>,
                "Bloody fingerprints and a knife were found at the crime
                scene, but none of the prints belonged to Wallace or any
                of his co-defendants." In addition, seven prisoners
                testified that Wallace could not have been near the
                scene of the murder, and other testimonies by prisoners
                contradicted each other. Wallace was convicted for the
                murder in 1974, and it took 16 years to appeal the case.
                It was later revealed that prisoner Hezekiah Brown was <a
                  target="_blank"
                  href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=96199165">receiving
                  favors from the then-warden Murray Henderson</a> for
                being a witness against Wallace. Angola Three member
                Robert King Wilkerson's conviction was overturned in
                2001, and Wallace was released in 2013 after <a
                  target="_blank"
href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/04/herman-wallace-angola-three-dies-solitary-confinement">US
                  District Judge Brian Jackson</a> "ruled women were
                unconstitutionally excluded from the grand jury that
                indicted Wallace; Wallace died from liver cancer a few
                days later." Although Woodfox's release was ordered by
                US District Judge James J. Brady on June 9, 2015,
                Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell has
                appealed the decision.</p>
              <p>The #76759 exhibition at Brooklyn Public Library had a
                life-size recreation of Wallace's prison cell, excerpts
                from his correspondences with Sumell, books from his
                reading list and a model of the dream home Wallace
                designed. The exhibit also contained <a target="_blank"
href="http://www.democracynow.org/2015/4/17/watch_art_exhibit_recreates_tiny_cell">108
                  books that Wallace wanted to have in the library</a>
                at his home. Some of the books he requested were <em>Democracy
                  and Revolution</em> by George Novack; Stalin; Marx;
                Trotsky; and his favorite, <em>The Wretched of the
                  Earth</em> by Frantz Fanon.</p>
              <p>Library outreach director Nick Higgins said the
                library's target audience for this exhibit and related
                programming were "the people in our community who don't
                often think about criminal justice issues and folks who
                oppose justice reform." When asked if he was concerned
                about controversial exhibits in libraries, Higgins
                stated:</p>
              <blockquote>
                <p>I'd actually argue that the topic of solitary
                  confinement, or criminal justice, is not a
                  controversial topic in itself. It's much more
                  controversial that it doesn't get talked about as much
                  as it should in neutral spaces like libraries. The
                  controversy is that this is a system that we all
                  support through tax payments and through our voting
                  habits, yet the direct consequences of this system on
                  individuals, and the enormous collateral consequences
                  of this system on families and communities are rarely
                  given space for critical public dialogue.</p>
              </blockquote>
              <p>The importance of exhibits and displays in public
                spaces, especially libraries, is that they have the
                opportunity to break us out of our ideological box. To
                borrow the term "filter bubble," coined from Eli
                Pariser, chief executive of Upworthy, art displays in
                public places can break us from our "filter bubble" of
                personalized filters that try to guess what we are
                searching for on Google and Amazon based on collected
                metadata from past searches. The danger of these
                invisible barriers is that they can prohibit new ideas
                from being presented, which stifles dialogue. The
                promise of dialogue is that it will decrease alienation
                in communities. In his article, "Making and Unmaking of
                Strangers," Zygmunt Bauman explains how community or
                citizenry help to break down the "mini Berlin Walls"
                that we build every day. <a
                  href="http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/#a5">(5)</a>
                Although there is no road map on how to break down these
                walls, it is evident that art plays a significant role.
                Oscar Wilde profoundly hits this point in his essay,
                "The Decay of Lying," stating, "The object of art is not
                simple truth but complex beauty."</p>
              <center><span class="wf_caption"><br>
                  <span></span></span></center>
              <p><strong>Footnotes</strong></p>
              <p><a name="a1">1.</a> Peter Dobkin Hall, "To Make Us Bold
                and Learn to Read - To Be Friends to Each Other, and
                Friends to the World": Libraries and Civil Society in
                the United States (New Haven, CT: Yale University,
                1995), 9.</p>
              <p><a name="a2">2. </a>Patterson Graham, <em>A Right to
                  Read: Segregation and Civil Rights in Alabama's Public
                  Libraries, 1900-1965</em>. (Tuscaloosa, Alabama:
                University of Alabama Press, 2002), 71.</p>
              <p><a name="a3">3.</a> Karen Cook. 2013. "Struggles
                Within: Lura G. Currier, the Mississippi Library
                Commission, and Library Services to African Americans."
                <em>Information & Culture</em> 48, no. 1: 134-156.
                Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost.</p>
              <p><a name="a4">4.</a> "Massacre exhibit sparks
                controversy at UC." <em>Library Journal</em> 103, no.
                11 (June 1978): 1106. Academic Search Premier,
                EBSCOhost.</p>
              <p><a name="a5">5.</a> Zygmunt Bauman. "Making and
                Unmaking of Strangers." <em>Thesis Eleven</em> 43, no.
                1 (1995): 1-16.</p>
            </div>
          </div>
        </div>
      </div>
      <div> </div>
    </div>
    <div class="moz-signature">-- <br>
      Freedom Archives
      522 Valencia Street
      San Francisco, CA 94110
      415 863.9977
      <a class="moz-txt-link-abbreviated" href="http://www.freedomarchives.org">www.freedomarchives.org</a>
    </div>
  </body>
</html>