UW Today

July 12, 2016

UW historian selects 1971 prison death for Time’s ’25 Moments That Changed America’

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Dan Berger of UW Bothell contributed to a Time.com list of the "25 moments that changed America"

Dan Berger

When editors at Time magazine compiled a list of expert picks for “25 Moments that Changed America,” UW Bothell’s Dan Berger was among the historians they reached out to for a contribution.

An assistant professor in Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Berger was asked to choose a “moment” — trends and social movements were not allowed — and write something brief about it. The article ran on June 28 on the Time’s website and in its many social media outlets.

Berger chose to note the Aug. 21, 1971, killing of inmate George Jackson during an escape attempt from San Quentin prison, which he wrote about at length in his award-winning 2014 book “Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era.

He wrote for Time that though incarcerated at 18 and dead at 29, Jackson through his writing “was able to emerge as an author, activist and powerful analyst of what we now call mass incarceration. Writing when the prison system was a fraction of the size it is today, Jackson diagnosed the dangers of ubiquitous incarceration. His insights inspired many people.”

Berger said he had Jackson in mind because 2016 marks the 45th anniversary of the killing and of the Attica prison rebellion it helped inspire, and because a colleague has a new book coming in August about the Attica riot. That book, by Heather Ann Thompson, is “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy.”

This is Time’s second list of moments depicting what the magazine’s founder, Henry Luce, famously called The American Century. The first was in 2015, and “animated by the breadth and insight of that round-up, as well as the knowledge that it was only the tip of the iceberg,” the editors created a follow-up list.

For Time, Berger concluded that partly as a result of Jackson’s death and the Attica uprising, “Citizens became more aware of the danger of punishment being so severe — even as politicians moved further in that direction.”