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  • Writer's pictureKadiatou Tubman

History Behind Bars at the Manhattan Detention Center

I still remember my first time inside of a prison. I was visiting my father, and even as a child I recognized how much those visits meant to him. Those memories reemerged as eleven men joined us inside of the Manhattan Detention Center's library today. I greeted each of them with a smile and a handshake and repeated their names aloud for memorization. We started our conversation with a British Black Panther protest image from the Schomburg and they jumped right in! They were all familiar with the Black Power Movement, citing Malcolm X and and Fred Hampton as examples. But they were astounded by the documents we shared and that we were asking them to challenge and create their own narratives about Black Power based on what was in front of them. It wasn't a lecture. It was a conversation. We spoke over each other, asked clarifying questions, cracked jokes, shared conspiracies, and brought our own histories to the table. One man, Mr. Ali, was even brought to tears. Though the session was scheduled for an hour, nearly two hours later one of the men asked me to take a photograph for the archives! We took a group photo and wrote down their requests for more archived documents (by an overwhelming vote, it looks like transatlantic slavery is the theme for our next session).

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