As Nelson Mandela observed in Long Walk To Freedom: “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails.” The prison as an allegory for the nation has been a common theme in the writing of intellectuals, philosophers and activists. However, in relation to the development of movements for black self-determination the prison has often acted historically as a broader metaphor, one that has been applied on a global level and has prompted a range of black international possibilities.
Last week I gave a paper at the Historians of the Twentieth-Century United States (HOTCUS) Annual Conference at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. My paper was entitled: “We Shall Win Our Freedoms Together’: Black Masculinity and Incarceration in the United States and South Africa, 1945-1960,” and explored the different ways in which the incarceration of black political leaders in the United States and South Africa helped forge black international connections between activists in both countries. The paper argued that black incarceration in the U.S. and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s, and in particular the incarceration of black political leaders, amounted to a shared experience of race discrimination around which a number of black transnational connections were made. Focusing predominantly on writings and speeches made by prominent black male leaders, I asserted that ideas of black criminality were challenged on a global scale in ways that advanced certain clearly defined gender roles within movements for black self-determination that often obscured the political activism of black women at the expense of black men.
It would be great to hear from anyone interested in the connections between black incarceration and black protest on a global context and would love to find out nay new information about specific leaders, organisations and movements in Africa for which incarceration played an important role in shaping their political outlook. Please feel free to post any thoughts and comments below.