USA – april 16, 1955
In 1919, Rusk State Penitentiary in Texas was turned into a hospital for the ‘Negro insane’. The facility achieved notoriety when, on April 16, 1955, a group of AfricanAmerican prisoners in the maximum-security unit rebelled and took over the hospital for five hours. The rebellion was led by nineteen-year-old Ben Riley, who articulated inmate demands for better counseling, organized exercise periods, an end to prisoner beatings, and that all inmates have the same rights enjoyed by the white inmates regarding meals, bathing and freedom of movement. (Texas Rangers on-line reference) An article in the Austin Statesman reflects the power of having control of the media: it stated that the prisoners had ‘no specific complaints’, and described Ben Riley as the ‘leader of the gang of criminally insane Negroes’ and as someone who ‘likes to exhibit his muscles’ (Lloyd 1955). Readers get the sense that the reporter was barely restraining himself from calling the young leader a ‘big Black buck’. The Austin Statesman’s article is accompanied by a photo of a shirtless Riley with a caption that notes that the man was pointing to scars on another inmate that were reportedly caused by a beating. Is it possible that Riley was not just taking the opportunity to ‘exhibit his body’ but was showing his own scars? During the siege, the inmates reportedly hooked the hospital superintendent up to the electroshock machine and attempted to deliver maximum voltage to him. The superintendent escaped injury when the inmates pushed the right button but failed to set the spring correctly. (Sitton 1999, p.112) In her well researched book on the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, it is notable that author Sarah Sitton fails to note that Rusk State Hospital was established to serve African-American patients. Sitton is very sympathetic to the plight of attendants dealing with threats of violence from AfricanAmerican prisoners but shows little concern for the violence perpetrated against African-American inmates. …..(read more from source below).