If Only All Barriers Could Be Removed...

"...if only all barriers could be removed..."


unspoken words
feelings repressed because
     the prison walls are also
          soul walls
if only all barriers could be removed
     and we could walk/ talk/ sing
     free of all psychological, spiritual
               political, economic
all of us all the freedom lovers of 
          the world but especially
               right now—prisoners.

—Ericka Huggins, p. 112 in If They Come in the Morning...

If only all barriers could be removed... takes its title from a poem by Ericka Huggins, published in If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance, edited by Angela Y. Davis.

Ericka, a Black Panther, wrote this poem while incarcerated at Niantic State Prison in 1970, during the full heat of the Black Power movement and the violence surrounding FBI's counter intelligence program, COINTELPRO. Ericka, along with most of the people represented in this project and in selections from the archive have encountered the far depths and barriers of United States' still expanding prisons as well as the lasting effects of the greater systems and industries of incarceration. It is my hope that in engaging with these histories, this might become a useful resource bridging the campus archive and lived experience culminating in a multifaceted collection of material histories, and that we can explore and think about these issues without reenacting the very violence we seek to end.

This digital exhibit is intended to be viewed a number of ways, utilizing paths in order to elucidate connections that the material has to conversations around prisons, policing, and abolition today, as well as encouraging your own engagement with the materials and conversations. It was envisioned as a connection between the rich historical materials held within Special Collections & Archives at UC Santa Cruz and the Institute of Arts and Sciences' Barring Freedom art exhibition and their educational programming such as Visualizing Abolition. 

How to use this site
On the next page, you will find images each signifying the beginning of a path. Each path is labeled with a topic to explore related to histories of interlinked struggles surrounding prison abolition. There is also link to a page of selected materials, organized by collection. This lists all materials utilized in this exhibit. Each image contains information on where you can find them, with which you can chart the course for your own exploration of materials related to these histories.

In addition to the links toward the bottom of each page, the menu at the top left of the screen allows you to browse pages and return to the main menu 

Additionally, if you'd like to read further, I have included a short list of resources available in the Library or online. I hope you enjoy this experience!

I wish to extend my gratitude to Jessica Pigza and Alix Norton for their heroic facilitation of this project during the COVID-19 Pandemic. In addition, I am grateful to Teresa Mora, head of Special Collections & Archives at UCSC, for her welcoming of this project, which has been an incredible learning experience. I would be remiss without acknowledging the work of IAS and specifically the curators of Barring Freedom, Dr. Rachel Nelson and Alexandra Moore, for spearheading the incredible abolitionist programming within the campus community and for connecting this intellectual pursuit to conversations happening in the art world. Lastly, I want to sincerely thank my HAVC department faculty advisor Kyle Parry for his consistent direction, inspiration, and support through adapting what was to be in-person meetings to conversations mediated digitally.

About this site
The site was created in Scalar by Michael Conlee, a Sociology + History of Art and Visual Culture double major at UC Santa Cruz. The work was done remotely during the 2020 Fall Quarter amid the COVID-19 Pandemic as a Service Learning Practicum, a partnership between the History of Art and Visual Culture Department and Special Collections & Archives at UC Santa Cruz.

heading photo: Jail Coming Down, 1937. from Santa Cruz County Historic Photograph Collection. MS 427. Special Collections and Archives, University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz.

The material in this exhibit is provided for personal study, scholarship, or research. Transmission or reproduction of any material protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. The authors or their heirs retain their copyrights to the material. To request the removal of items from this online exhibit, please refer to our Takedown Policy


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