Storming the Gates: Fifty Years After the Attica Prison Uprising
Fifty years ago this week, September 9-13, 1971, incarcerated men at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York took control of the state prison to demand humane treatment and better living. The revolt captured the nation’s attention, with journalists, historians and political analysts calling it a pivotal moment in the national prisoners’ rights movement.
Now, after the murder of George Floyd inspired renewed protests across the country demanding accountability around law enforcement, corrections and criminal justice, the WNYC Race and Justice Unit sought to reexamine the 50th anniversary of the Attica uprising, what has changed in New York State’s prison system to improve the quality of life for inmates, and what remains unaddressed half a century later.
PART ONE: Setting the Stage
An event that started as a prisoner uprising over living conditions morphed into an organized rebellion that included taking prison guards hostage and negotiating with state and federal officials over a list of 27 demands. It ended in the storming of the facility and the deaths of 43 people — incarcerated men and corrections officers.
We begin our series with The Witnesses: three men who were incarcerated at Attica 50 years ago this week, when all hell broke loose.
Tyrone Larkins, Alhajji Sharif and Akil Shaquan spoke with WNYC Race and Justice reporter Joseph Gedeon.
While these men have the lived experience of what happened inside Attica, Professor Heather Ann Thompson, a historian at the University of Michigan, has been able to assess the large political forces at play that pushed tensions inside and outside the prison over the edge in her book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. Thompson spoke with series producer Emily Lang.