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Dr. Heather Ann Thompson, whose widely acclaimed book, “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy,” earned her multiple awards, including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in History, will talk about her account of the prison massacre and why it remains relevant today when she presents the 2nd Annual John E. McGinty Lecture in History at Salve Regina University.
Thompson’s public talk, “The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Why It Matters Today,” will be presented at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 26 in Bazarsky Lecture Hall, located in the Antone Academic Building on Ochre Point Avenue. Sponsored by Salve Regina’s history department, those interested in attending Thompson’s free talk are asked to reserve a seat at salve.edu/mcginty.
In September of 1971, nearly 1,300 men took over one of the nation’s most infamous prisons, the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Their revolt was an effort to secure basic human rights. Four days later, a motley crew of New York State Police officers, National Guardsmen and assorted volunteers stormed the prison yard, firing 3,000 rounds into the tear gas haze, killing 29 inmates and 10 of the hostages, and wounding 89.
Most were shot in the initial indiscriminate barrage of gunfire, but other prisoners were shot or killed after they surrendered. As autopsies later revealed, with one exception, all the corrections officers who died were killed by bullet wounds — in other words, by “friendly fire.” In all, 43 people were killed during the entirety of the uprising.
For the next 45 years, the story of how such trauma could have taken place was hidden from the public. Thompson’s 2016 book shares the story of this dramatic rebellion, its tragic end, and the depth of the cover-up that followed it. Knowing this history, she suggests, shines needed new light on why we have more people locked up in the United States today than any other country on the globe.
In addition to winning the Pulitzer, Thompson’s work won the Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy (2017), the Ridenhour Book Prize (2017), the J. Willard Hurst Award in Socio-Legal History (2017), was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist (2017), Finalist Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts – Honorable Mention (2017), New York City Bar Association Award (2016), National Book Award Finalist (2016), New York Times Most Notable Books of 2016, Top Ten Best Books of 2016 Publishers Weekly, Top Ten Best Works of Non-Fiction of 2016 Kirkus Reviews, and Top Ten Books of 2016 Newsweek.
Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times wrote of the book, “Not all works of history have something to say so directly to the present, but Heather Ann Thompson’s ‘Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy,’ which deals with racial conflict, mass incarceration, police brutality and dissembling politicians, reads like it was special-ordered for the sweltering summer of 2016.”
Thompson is a historian at the University of Michigan. She served on a National Academy of Sciences blue-ribbon panel that studied the causes and consequences of mass incarceration in the United States and has given congressional staff briefings on the subject. She has written on the history of mass incarceration and its current impact for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, Salon, Newsweek, NBC, Dissent, New Labor Forum, and The Huffington Post, as well as for various top scholarly publications. She is also the author of “Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City” and editor of “Speaking Out: Activism and Protest in the 1960s and 1970s.”
Established in honor of the late John E. McGinty, former trustee and parent of 2001 Salve Regina graduate John W. McGinty, the McGinty Lecture furthers the educational advancement of undergraduate students in history. Following her lecture, Thompson will sign copies of “Blood in the Water,” with onsite sales of the book available.