For the last few weeks, we have been telling the story of Eroseanna Robinson’s refusal to pay taxes used for war, her imprisonment and absolute noncooperation with the prison system, and the grassroots community of supporters her story generated. She never signed anything the legal system mandated, refused to follow prison rules, and maintained a hunger strike from the first minute of her incarceration to the end. As a Black woman from Chicago imprisoned in West Virginia in 1960, “Sis” Robinson took great risks by challenging the sentencing judge, the correctional officers, and the rest of the punitive institution that kept her. And yet, she was released after serving just a quarter of her sentence. Why?
(See our previous posts to learn more about Eroseanna Robinson and her arrest:
- Eroseanna Robinson: Black Olympic Athlete, Desegregationist, War Tax Resister
- "This is Why Eroseanna Robinson Refuses to Pay Taxes", 1960
- Solidarity with War Tax Resister Eroseanna Robinson, 1960)
Members of the Peacemaker movement (to which Eroseanna Robinson belonged) had picketed outside of IRS offices and other federal buildings in various cities around the country, generating greater publicity to Robinson’s situation. Clergy and regular people wrote to the sentencing judge, Judge Robson appealing to his conscience and urging for leniency. Meanwhile, other peacemakers had protested outside of the Alderson prison at scattered opportunities during those months of her imprisonment, but in the week before Robinson’s release, ten people had set up a more permanent Peacemaker encampment outside the Alderson prison gates. They were of mixed genders, roughly half of them Black and half white. Most of them had taken up a hunger strike in solidarity with Eroseanna. All of them were willing and eager to talk with local people to explain why they were there. And all of this was announced to the Alderson community through a statement in the town newspaper — which caused many local people to go and hear for themselves the Peacemakers’ vision for a world without war.
Judge Robson and the Alderson prison warden Nina Knisella both maintained that the letters and picketing did not influence the decision to release Eroseanna Robinson early, but that it was because her resistance had become too great of a burden on the prison medical staff who had to force-feed and monitor her. This may be true, but it should also be noted that the federal strategy toward the antiwar movement at the time was to ignore and downplay its actions to prevent the movement from growing — such pronouncements of denial should be taken with a grain of salt.
Still, if Robson and Knisella are to be believed, it is perhaps an even more incredible story: that a northern Black woman imprisoned south of the Mason-Dixon line in 1960 would be released just one-quarter of the way through her sentence simply because through nonviolent resistance and noncooperation, she made her own imprisonment too difficult for the prison system to maintain.
When Robinson was released, the prison bought her a ticket to Chicago and sent her directly to the train station, trying to avoid the publicity moment with the Peacemakers encampment outside of the prison gates. But the Peacemakers quickly made chase and met up with Robinson at the train station, where the correctional officers watched impotently as Robinson let the train leave without her and then drove off in the car with her Peacemaker friends.
(Click the images below to download the PDF versions of the original articles)
Visit the War Resisters League (WRL) page on war tax resistance to get an overview explanation of the movement. The WRL website is also where you can find the pie chart of federal income tax distribution, as well: https://www.warresisters.org/war-tax-resistance
Learn more about war tax resistance, including how to resist war taxes yourself, and get involved in today’s national war tax resistance movement at the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee website: https://nwtrcc.org/
If you like our weekly posts, please consider supporting this project with a one-time or recurring donation. Contributions of all sizes are appreciated. Click this link to learn more about what we do and how you can donate: https://www.mightycause.com/organization/Voluntown-Peace-Trust
“Pacifists Camp At Prison Gate.” The Charleston Gazette. 16 May 1960.
“We at the Gate to Alderson Prison Speak.” The Alderson Times. 19 May 1960.
“Prison To Free Hunger Striker.” Beckley Post-Herald. 20 May 1960.
“Victory Celebrated by ‘Peacemakers.’” The Charleston Gazette. 21 May 1960.
“Robinson Released; Still Won’t Pay Taxes.” The Peacemaker. 28 May 1960, Volume 13, Number 8. Page 1.
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