New York Troopers - History
Preserving the Past for Those Who Follow






An incident at Auburn Prison on November 2, 1970 occurred when militants seized a microphone and proclaimed a “Black Solidarity Day” that precipitated an inmate sit in. It was short lived with fourteen inmates confined to their cells, as punishment.

On November 4, 1970, troopers were sent to Auburn Prison, when rebelling inmates refused to return to their cells, failed to report to assigned workshops and prevented other inmates from doing so. By 11:45 AM, seven guards had been clubbed. Inmates armed with boards and pipes seized 30 guards as hostages. Prisoners had control of the entire prison with the exception of the administration building. 322 troopers were mobilized with an additional force of 300 guards and sheriff’s deputies placed in a support role. Corrections officials refused to discuss grievances until all the hostages were released. The show of overwhelming force quickly ended the rioters desire to continue. At 3:30 PM, the first hostage was freed and inmates started returning to their cells without further incident. Approximately 450 inmates were actually involved in the rebellion.

During 1970, National Guard troops had gunned down unarmed students protesting against the Vietnam war at Jackson State and Kent Universitites. Black leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had both been shot and killed. When George Jackson, a Black Panther inmate was killed at San Quentin by guards on August 21, 1971. Attica inmates organized a hunger strike. His book "Soledad Brother" was passed from prisoner to prisoner.

Politically aware Attica inmates were well organized and unified against what they felt was a repressive, very tough white prison guard authority made up of 383 guards.Black militancy was at its peak with other state facilities transferring black problem inmates to Attica Prison. (Department of Corrections policy at the time was to move difficult and problem inmates from one prison to another.) It was strongly felt that the earlier Auburn Prison disturbances were allowed to fester with the transfer of troublesome inmate leaders from Auburn to Attica. During July 1971, a group of inmates sent a manifesto of grievances to prison officials relating to inmate treatment and conditions. Commissioner Oswald said he needed time to review the requests..




The story of the Attica Prison Riots have been told and retold by the news media, in magazines, television documentaries, several “I was there” books and in the courts. I will only synopsize events and relate my recollections of Attica, as I saw it.


In 1971, Attica Prison, just as any other prison, had the potential for serious problems. The facility built to house 2000 inmates had a population of 2,254 requiring double bunking. Its population contained approximately 75% street hardened black and latino criminals who were well versed in events occurring in the outside world on several occasions prior to the rioting, inmates had told guards that they (inmates) were going to take over the prison using force. The guards gave this information to their superiors, but no action was taken. When the riots were over, the date September 9th was found circled on many of the inmate calendars indicating the rebellion was not spontaneous, but a planned event.
On Wednesday evening, September 8, 1971, two inmates were placed in solitary confinement for fighting and another for throwing a can striking a guard in the head, then being forcibly removed from his cell. Guards sensed a tense and uneasy atmosphere and considered keeping all inmates confined to their cells the next morning. Instead, supervisors opted to continue with normal operations.