Papers of Mumia Abu-Jamal and and Johanna Fernández ‘93 will anchor Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States, the new collecting direction at the John Hay Library.
More Information / Media
For information in addition to what is below, please see the New York Times article, “Brown University Acquires the Papers of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” by Jenny Schuessler and the News from Brown article, “To advance research on incarceration, Brown acquires personal papers of prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal,” by Jill Kimball.
Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States
As of 2022, the United States’ vast carceral system imprisons two million people — more than any other nation and with a growth rate of 500% since 1970. Though government and institutional records on incarceration, law, and policy abound, there is a paucity of archival materials by incarcerated individuals, their families, and advocates. There are fewer than twenty archival collections in the U.S. that represent individuals who are incarcerated. Most of these are small (5 folders; a handful of diaries). Until now, none of these have been collected directly from a currently incarcerated individual.
Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States will provide essential research material to advance scholarship on the carceral state and its historical antecedents.
Accessing the Collections
The Mumia Abu-Jamal and Johanna Fernandez ‘93 collections will be open for research in fall 2023. We are committed to making these materials available to scholars within and beyond Brown, including creating avenues for scholars from Philadelphia and New York to be able to make use of the collections. Digitization of the materials and public events, including a symposium, are on the horizon.
Referred to by the New York Times as the most recognized death row inmate in the world, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an American political activist and journalist who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1982 for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He became widely known while on death row for continuously proclaiming his innocence and fighting his conviction and for his writings and commentary on the criminal justice system in the United States, including the 1995 memoir, Live from Death Row. After numerous appeals and public pressure from the “Free Mumia” movement, in 2011 his death penalty sentence was overturned by a federal court and reduced to a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. He entered the prison’s general population early in 2012, and has continued to write about his experiences in and from prison while maintaining his innocence. In 2015, Abu-Jamal published Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal (City Lights, 2015), which was edited by Johanna Fernández.
Composed of approximately 60 boxes of papers that Abu-Jamal sent to Fernández since his imprisonment, and spanning from approximately 1981 – 2019, Abu-Jamal’s archive includes his personal experiences on death row; his ongoing 40+ year imprisonment in solitary confinement, maximum, and medium security Pennsylvania prisons; his reflections on civil rights, incarceration, and freedom; his activist life; and global reaction to his case articulated through activist work on his behalf through publications, film, and other media.
Johanna Fernández ‘93
Born and raised in the Bronx, NY as one of four siblings, Johanna Fernández ‘93 is the daughter of working-class immigrants from the Dominican Republic who fled the Trujillo dictatorship to come to the United States. The first in her family to graduate from college, Fernández received an AB in Literature and American Civilization from Brown in 1993 and later earned a PhD in History from Columbia University. While at Brown, Fernández was a member of Students for Admissions and Minority Aid and led the April 1992 student occupation of University Hall in hopes of pressuring Brown to move more rapidly towards the admission of students regardless of their ability to pay to attend.
Fernández teaches 20th century U.S. history and the history of social movements in the Department of History at Baruch College (CUNY). She is the author of the award-winning book, The Young Lords: A Radical History (UNC Press, February 2020), about the Puerto Rican counterpart to the Black Panther Party. In 2014, she sued the New York City Police Department, claiming that it had failed to produce public records of surveillance of the Young Lords in the 1960s and 1970s; police department employees found those surveillance documents, alongside NYPD dossiers and extensive surveillance of members of the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, in a Queens warehouse two years later.
A close friend and advocate of Abu-Jamal, Fernández co-edited with Abu-Jamal a special issue of the journal Socialism and Democracy, titled The Roots of Mass Incarceration in the US: Locking Up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor (Routledge, 2014). She is the editor of Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal (City Lights, 2015) and is the writer and producer of the film, Justice on Trial: the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (BigNoise Films, 2010). Fernández is also an active Brown alumna and has served on the Pembroke Center Advisory Council since 2018.
Spanning from approximately 1965-2021, this collection documents Fernández’s personal history, professional work, and activism. Composed of approximately 45+ boxes of documents, oral histories and digital records, this collection is comprehensive in its documentation of Fernández as a Dominican American community activist; her role as chief advocate on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal; her research on the history of the Young Lords Party; her legal fight to gain access to NYPD surveillance files; her work in radio and other media; and much more.
You Belong Here
The phrase “You Belong Here” is set above the front desk and in front of the exterior of the John Hay Library. According to Associate University Librarian for Special Collections Amanda Strauss:
I came to Brown to transform the John Hay Library into a boldly inclusive institution that is fully engaged with collections that illuminate the most pressing issues of our time. I am honored that Mumia Abu-Jamal and Johanna Fernandez ‘93 decided to place their collections at the Hay, and we will continue to collect voices of mass incarceration in the United States so that the archival record no longer excludes the voices and stories of individuals and communities affected by the carceral state.”
The John Hay Library is home to Brown University’s remarkable collections of rare books, manuscripts, and University Archives. We are committed to being an active partner in advancing the University’s academic mission. We are here for you.