January 21 1962 in Clarksdale, Mississippi two white police officers arrested Betsy Turner, an African-Black teenager. They charged her with theft and took her to the county jail for questioning. Soon, however, the interrogation turned violent. Turner was made to lie down on the flour and was whipped on her back, buttocks, and genitals. She was told to remain silent about what had occurred, but she refused to be silenced. Betsy Turner’s story then became part of the ongoing struggle over anti-black state terrorism.
It was painful to listen to Althea Legal-Miller’s talk about how often young black girls were mistreated and abused when sent to prison after taking action in the civil rights movement. Girls were often treated in similar ways to Betsy Turner – some even worse. Turner came to believe that her sexual assault had been a reprisal against her attempts to register for the vote.
The 1960s proved to be pivotal moment where jails and prisons became a battleground where black women fought over their rights against violence and sexual attack. In this paper Legal-Miller takes us through some of the horrendous stories that came out from these jails and what role all of this eventually played in the civil rights movement.