A Fight Against The Prison System Started With Self-Defense

Joan Little
William Anderson
September 14, 2020

Content Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault.

Joan Little was only about 20 years old when she was arrested for breaking and entering. As she sat in jail awaiting trial, a guard entered her cell with an ice pick, planning to force her into sexual submission. 

What she did set off a chain of groundbreaking events.

The white jailer, Clarence Alligood, tried to violently rape Joan – but instead he ended up dead! She stabbed him with his own weapon and fled. But her story was far from over.

Joan faced a first-degree murder charge and the death penalty, but Black people rallied together for her cause. 

A movement for prisoners’ rights, self-defense, and Black feminism came together to raise funds and fight her case. Then, the unexpected happened.

When she stood trial, she was acquitted! Her case gained international attention, and it was the first time a woman was acquitted for using force to defend herself against sexual violence, setting a crucially important precedent.

She became a symbol for many, and her story is STILL important.

Angela Davis has said Joan Little’s case shows how people can generate earth-shaking power as a collective. There are plenty of Black women and girls still facing struggles just like Joan did. 

This fight isn’t over – and we have to remember that this case tells us to FIGHT BACK.

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