A Glimpse into History: Yale Describes Black Man’s 1858 Prison Memoir

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Reed’s account aimed to expose the brutal punishments at Auburn State Prison, including whippings and what were called shower baths, similar to water-boarding, a type of simulated drowning. He described what happened after he confronted a warden with a knife:

“Stripping off my shirt the tyrantical curse bounded my hands fast in front of me and ordered me to stand around,” he wrote. “Turning my back towards him he threw sixty seven lashes on me according to the orders of Esq. Cook. I was then to stand over the dreain while one of the inmates was my back in a pail of salt brine.”

Yale American history professor David Blight called the Reed prison narrative manuscript “a revelation.”

“Nothing quite like it exists,” said Blight, director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. “Reed is a crafty and manipulative storyteller, and perhaps above all he left an insider’s look at the American world of crime, prisons and the brutal state of race relations in the middle of the 19th century.”

(Photo: Yale.edu)

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