History Ph.D. Dissertations


Narrow Cells and Lost Keys: The Impact of Jails and Prisons on Black Protest, 1940-1972

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Lillian Ashcraft-Eason


Jails and prisons have exerted a considerable amount of political and cultural influence on black activists and political prisoners in American social movements since the 1940s. The impact of these institutions can be interpreted in two ways: through the responses of activists using carceral factors as a central point of reference in their repertoire of protest and secondly in the cultural consciousness that envisioned imprisonment and/or carceral confrontation as a process of redemptive suffering. For nearly half a century, carceral institutions significantly affected the practice, perception and the opposition of black activism in American society. This dissertation outlines how the impact of imprisonment, jailing, policing and other carceral factors developed as a central theme in black protest over time.