The following timeline was created by Attica is All of Us. It provides background to the Attica Prison Rebellion and Massacre, a detailed account of the 4-day protest and retaking of the prison by state forces, and the 27-year battle for justice in the courts.
You can download a PDF of the timeline here.
Background(1950s through 1970)
Prison populations were deeply affected by the movements for political and social change during the sixties. Militant prisoners in the California state prisons were among the first to organize around improving their conditions. The successes of the California prisoners spurred other prisoners to follow their lead. Books written by California black prison leaders broadened and consolidated the movement for reform. Eldridge Cleaver’s, Soul on Ice, and George Jackson’s, Soledad Brother, became immediate best sellers on the New York Times Best Sellers List. The rise of the Black Panther Party and the resultant arrests, assassinations, and political prosecutions of Panthers galvanized prisoner awareness and militancy.
In 1970, there were revolts in three jails in New York City. On October 1, prisoners’ concerns about over-crowding, lack of medical care, and poor food led to a spontaneous take-over at the Tombs in Manhattan. Herbert X Blyden, a state prisoner who was incarcerated in the Tombs, was one of the negotiators who met with Mayor Lindsay. Blyden later served as the head of the Negotiating Committee of prisoners democratically selected at Attica. On November 4, 1970, a rebellion occurred at Auburn State Prison after black prisoners’ request for a Black Solidarity Day observance was denied. The riot ended peacefully the next day. Promises of no administrative and/or physical reprisals were broken, and the prisoners were severely beaten. Some of the leaders were transferred to Attica and kept in solitary confinement until a federal judge ordered their release.
At Attica, the prisoners began to organize and demand basic improvements in their conditions—most of their requests were within current legal requirements and were summarily denied by Warden Mancusi. Muslims were not permitted to hold religious services, and any assembly of more than three Muslims in the prison yard was punishable by solitary confinement. Pork, a meat eschewed by Muslims, was served regularly for both lunch and dinner. Prisoners worked at hard industry, including in a metal shop where the temperatures in the summer were often in the 100s. Notwithstanding this, the inmates were given one roll of toilet paper a month, one bar of soap a month, one shower a week, and were paid at most 56 cents a day. The health care, administered by two incompetent and sadistic doctors, Williams and Sternberg, was horrific. No newspapers were available in the prison library, and prisoners with periodical subscriptions regularly received them with entire sections cut out. There were no educational or vocational programs. Attica was originally designed to hold 1,200 prisoners. At the time of the uprising it held 2,225 prisoners, 54% of whom were black. There were only white guards.
THE ATTICA PRISON REBELLION AND MASSACRE
Donald Noble, Carl Jones-El, and Herbert X Blyden, who all worked together in the metal shop in B Block, write an original set of demands called ‘”The Attica Manifesto,” based on the Soledad Manifesto. They show their manifesto to a sympathetic young guard, Michael Smith, who encourages them.
2 July 1971
The prisoners send their demands, renamed the “July Manifesto,” to Corrections Commissioner Russell G. Oswald and Assistant Commissioner Walter Dunbar. Dunbar sends the demands to Vincent Mancusi, Attica Warden. Mancusi’s only response is to demand that the writers of the Manifesto be transferred. Oswald refuses Mancusi’s request.
George Jackson is assassinated at San Quentin.
Attica inmates memorialize the death of Jackson by organizing a prison-wide breakfast fast, in which every prisoner participates. Again, Mancusi’s only response is to demand the transfer of those he perceived at leaders, and again his request is denied.
2 September 1971
Commissioner Oswald, who had been asked by prisoners to visit Attica to discuss prison conditions and reforms, visits the facility and meets with prison officials. He does not meet with inmates, claiming he had to leave because his wife became ill. He leaves behind a tape recording that is played over the public address system and is poorly received.
8 September 1971
3:45 PM – Officers and inmates clash in A Yard after guards overreact to a friendly football scrimmage between black and white prisoners.
5:30 PM – Two inmates identified as involved in the A Yard incident are physically removed to HBZ (solitary confinement, referred to as the “box”). As the tension builds, an inmate from 5 Company strikes a corrections officer with a soup can and is immediately locked up by the guards.
9 September 1971
8:20 AM – The inmate who threw the soup can is released by fellow 5 Company inmates during lineup for breakfast. The entire company proceeds to breakfast.
8:50 AM – After breakfast, without notice, correctional personnel try to reroute 5 Company in A tunnel to prevent them from going out into the yard. The prisoners push forward toward “Times Square,” the center of the prison. Immediately, a crowd of hundreds swarms the corridor towards Times Square.
9:45 AM – The Times Square gate gives way. Three correctional officers, including William Quinn, are beaten. The prison alarm is sounded. Hundreds of prisoners storm throughout the entire prison, destroying property and taking hostages.
10:30 AM – 1,281 inmates and 43 hostages assemble in D Yard. Prisoners are now in control of all cellblocks and six other buildings. Prisoners immediately try to get the authorities to take custody of William Quinn, who is in a cell in A Block. The state waits several hours before they provide medical care to the gravely injured guard.
Afternoon – State police and correctional personnel re-establish control of areas that the inmates have deserted. The inmates keep control of B and D Blocks and Yards, Times Square, the corridors, and the catwalks. They immediately establish leadership in D Yard. The Muslims assume responsibility of the welfare and safety of the hostages. Frank Big Black Smith is chosen as head of security.
2:00 PM – Commissioner Oswald arrives at Attica.
3:00 PM – Buffalo Professor of Law, Herman Schwartz, and State Assemblyman, Arthur O. Eve of Buffalo, independently come to Attica and enter D Yard to speak with inmates.
4:25 p.m. – Eve and Schwartz re-enter D Yard with Commissioner Oswald. Oswald speaks with inmates and agrees to their demands for food and water and the presence of citizen observers.
5:45 PM – Oswald, Eve, and Schwartz return to the yard accompanied by reporters. Inmates present Oswald with “Practical Proposals,” and they talk for an hour.
10 September 1971
1:00 PM – Inmates in D Yard hold elections for spokesmen to participate in negotiations, with each block democratically electing two men. In addition, recognized leaders such as Roger Champen, L.D. Barkley, and Richard X. Clark continue as spokesmen.
7:00 PM – 33 observers arrive at Attica and pay a brief visit to D Yard.
11:30 PM – The observers’ committee returns to D Yard to learn the inmates’ demands.
11 September 1971
Afternoon – An executive committee of observers negotiates with Oswald, resulting in 28 “Proposals Acceptable to Commissioner Oswald.” Officer William Quinn, who was behind the gate that gave way at Times Square, dies. Inmates immediately understand that all in the yard may face serious criminal charges based on Quinn’s death.
9:00 PM – Observers enter D Yard to present the 28 Proposals to the inmates. Some observers remain for several hours to discuss points with inmates.
11:30 PM – Inmates reject a settlement based on the 28 Proposals. They hold out for amnesty from criminal prosecutions and the firing of Warden Mancusi.
12 September 1971
11:00 AM – The observers’ committee issues public appeal to Governor Rockefeller to come to Attica to meet with them.
1:20 PM – Observers, including New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, telephone Governor Rockefeller asking him to speak with the committee at Attica. Rockefeller refuses to meet with the observers.
2:10 PM – Commissioner Oswald issues an ultimatum to inmates urging acceptance of the 28 Proposals, requesting the release of hostages, and proposing negotiations on neutral ground.
9:30 PM – Oswald telephones Rockefeller and asks him to come to Attica. Rockefeller again refuses, choosing to stay in his mansion at Pocantico Hills.
13 September 1971
7:40 AM – Commissioner Oswald’s ultimatum is read to the inmates in D Yard.
9:00 AM – 8 blindfolded hostages are brought up to A and B Catwalks.
9:30 AM – The inmates reject Oswald’s ultimatum. Nelson Rockefeller remains at his estate in Pocantico Hills, while the head of the state police vacations at Bolton Landing on Lake George.
9:46 AM – A National Guard helicopter drops a huge quantity of tear gas over the prison. Although the gas effectively suppresses any possibility of prisoner resistance, state troopers, correction officers, deputy sheriffs, and park police open fire with shotguns, pistols, Thompson submachine guns, and .270 caliber rifles loaded with dum-dum bullets. State police sharpshooters positioned atop cellblock roofs shoot blindly through thick clouds of gas from as far away as 175 yards. Communication is not possible. Chief Inspector John C. Miller, the leading state police official at Attica, rips off his gas mask and fruitlessly tries to stop the unnecessary and indiscriminate slaughter.
9:50 AM – State police in a helicopter tell prisoners to stand up, place their hands over their heads and they will not be harmed. Notwithstanding this order, the shooting continues, and surrendering prisoners are hit. 2400 rounds of ammunition were fired into the yard. 29 prisoners and 10 hostages were killed and 89 people were seriously wounded,
10:20 AM – Prisoners in D Yard are stripped and forced to crawl to tunnels where they are met by gauntlets of truncheons rows of corrections officers and troopers wielding 2X4s. Within the next 24 hours, hundreds of prisoners are injured by guards and troopers using clubs, chains, screwdrivers, and other weapons. Several men bleed to death because no medical care is available. Prisoners designated as leaders are singled out and taken to solitary confinement where they are beaten and brutalized for days. Frank Big Black Smith, the inmates’ head of security, is tortured on a table for six hours, severely beaten, and brutalized in four separate locations.
11:00 AM – State officials announce that prisoners murdered hostages by cutting their throats, and in some instances cut off guards’ genitals.
11:15 AM – No arrangements are made in advance to provide medical care to wounded and dying prisoners. Many who could have been saved bled to death. An hour after the assault, Mancusi calls Dr. Worthington Schenk, the head of Meyer Memorial Hospital Disaster Unit, for help without telling him about the assault or explaining the extent of the carnage. Dr. Schenk and two residents arrive from Buffalo 45 minutes later and call for four mobile units. Treatment is delayed for over four hours.
Bottom of Form
14 September 1971
Officials announce that some hostages had bullet wounds caused by inmates with zip guns. All news outlets continue to report that prisoners killed the dead hostages.
Monroe County Pathologist, Dr. John Edland, announces that none of the hostages died from having their throats cut, none had mutilated genitals, and all had been killed by weapons fired by police and corrections officers.
21 September 1971
The Goldman Panel, convened by the chief Judge of the appellate court, examines and interviews Attica prisoners and concludes that over 90% of the inmates were brutalized and still had visible signs of their beatings.
13 September 1971 through February 1972
The state police are allowed to conduct a six-month investigation into the events at Attica despite the fact that they were the perpetrators of the massacre. Rather than investigate, they spend the time covering up their crimes. The New York Organized Crime Task Force runs the prosecutions and devotes itself full time to covering up the crimes of the state that occurred at Attica that day. It continues to prosecute inmates until 1976.
37 indictments are returned against 61 prisoners. Four months later, five more indictments are returned. 63 prisoners are charged with 1289 crimes in 42 separate felony indictments. No one from the assault force is charged with any crime.
Motions made by the Fair Jury Project of the Attica Brothers Legal Defense result in the reconstitution of the entire Erie County jury pool on the basis of discrimination against women and young people.
The first Attica case tried results in an acquittal.
The second case tried results in an acquittal.
Mary Jo Cook, an FBI informant, is exposed as infiltrating Attica Brothers Legal Defense and providing information to the prosecution.
A third trial results in an acquittal.
Dacajeweiah and Charley Joe Pernasilice are convicted in the murder trial of William Quinn. Dacajeweiah is sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
Former Attica prosecutor, Malcolm Bell, issues a report accusing the prosecution of failing to prosecute the real criminals—the state police shooters who planned and executed the massacre. The Meyer Commission is created and convenes to consider Bell’s charges.
The fifth trial results in an acquittal. No further Attica trials are held.
State Trooper, Gregory Wildredge, is indicted for reckless endangerment. Trooper Wildredge fired ten rounds from his shotgun on the catwalk. When asked why he fired, Wildredge responded “…to keep up the noise.”
26 February 1976
The state drops all pending indictments and dismisses the charges against most of the Attica Brothers.
31 December 1976
New York Governor Hugh Cary pardons seven inmates who took guilty pleas, commutes the sentences of two inmates convicted of murder, terminates the criminal prosecutions, and stops all administrative hearings against the state police. He refers to the Attica prosecution as “the darkest day in the history of New York State’s jurisprudence.”
Dacajeweiah is released from prison.
The civil case – AL-JUNDI V. ROCKEFELLER 75 CIV 132
A Federal Civil Rights Class Action Complaint is filed on behalf of the prisoners in New York City federal court by volunteer NYC attorneys. The class consists of everyone present in D Yard and the tunnels on September 13, 1971. The defendants are high officials of NYS government, as well as members of the assault force and numerous supervisory state police and correctional personnel. The lead defendant is Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.
The class action is transferred to the Western District of New York federal court in Buffalo and assigned to Judge John T. Elfvin, a staunch Republican and Nixon appointee. The NYC lawyers abandon the case and do not arrange for the service of the complaint against any of the defendants other than Rockefeller, Oswald, Mancusi , John Monahan, the head of the assault force, and Deputy Warden Karl Pfeil.
Judge Elfvin dismisses the lawsuit against all the defendants, except for Rockefeller, Oswald, Mancusi Monahan, and Pfeil, for failure to serve the complaint. He orders the case to begin.
Judge Elfvin de-certifies the case as a class action because of the absence of competent counsel. As there are no lawyers willing to represent the class of prisoners, Judge Elfvin orders the case dismissed unless discovery begins by February 24, 1981.
Elizabeth Fink, a former staff attorney at Attica Brothers Legal Defense, is approached by Attica Brothers and leaders Akil Al-Jundi and Frank Big Black Smith who tell her the case cannot die. As a result, Ms. Fink files a notice of appearance and commences discovery. Shortly thereafter, her comrades at Attica Brothers Legal Defense, Dennis Cunningham, Michael Deutsch, and Joseph Heath, re-enter the case. The Estate of Rockefeller moves to dismiss the case on the grounds that plaintiffs’ attorneys do not have sufficient resources to prosecute the case. The judge denies the motion and allows Fink to proceed.
The Attorney General denies having possession of Attica files. Fink files a motion to hold him in contempt for failing to turn over files.
Judge Elfvin orders the State to inspect the Attica files contained at the World Trade Center. Eventually, over two million pages of materials are inspected over the course of five years. Defendants do nothing during this period and allow the plaintiffs’ attorneys unfettered access.
Plaintiffs move to re-certify the case as a class action (a representative lawsuit on behalf of a class of plaintiffs) and for a trial date. The defendants then move to inspect the State’s files and are granted over three years to examine and copy hundreds of thousands of documents. A motion schedule is set for summary judgment motions (motions by the defendants to dismiss the case).
Only the Estate of Nelson Rockefeller moves for summary judgment and the judge grants the motion, dismissing Rockefeller from the case. The appellate court upholds the dismissal in the fall of 1989.
Judge Elfvin sets a trial date, stating on the record that the remaining defendants had waived their right to make summary judgment motions.
The defendants file summary judgment motions, and Elfvin allows the motions to proceed. He denies the motions in the fall of 1990, and the defendants appeal.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals denies the defendants’ appeal, instructing Elfvin to set a trial date and not allow any more delay.
14 October 1991
The trial begins in Buffalo federal court. Scores of witnesses testify, including plaintiffs, state police, National Guard medics, supervisory personnel and the living defendants. The true story of what happened at Attica is finally told.
4 February 1992
The jury returns a partial verdict, finding Deputy Warden Karl Pfeil responsible for the brutality, torture, and reprisals that occurred after the assault. They are a hung jury regarding the other defendants.
At the invitation of the State, settlement negotiations begin with hundreds of plaintiffs. They file questionnaires documenting their inhumane treatment and the effect it had on their lives. In November 1992, Governor Cuomo puts an end to the negotiations, choosing to continue Rockefeller’s legacy.
After years of delay, the appellate court instructs Judge Elfvin to begin damage trials and re-trials on the hung counts.
A damage trial begins for Frank Big Black Smith. The jury awards him four million dollars—the largest verdict for a prisoner ever. In the next trial, the jury awards David Broesig, an average plaintiff with average injuries, $75,000. Pfeil appeals.
2 August 1999
The appellate court reverses all three verdicts, de-certifies the class, and transfers the case to another federal judge, Michael A. Telesca, sitting in Rochester.
A class action lawsuit for 12 million dollars—8 million for plaintiffs and 4 million for lawyers—is filed. A long settlement process begins with long hearings in Rochester where all plaintiffs are given an opportunity to describe what happened to them during the massacre.
The judge distributes the awards, and the case is terminated.
PRODUCED BY ATTICA IS ALL OF US ON THE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF
THE ATTICA PRISON REBELLION AND MASSCARE.
Attica is all of us.