This week’s #LiftEVERYvoice segment features Joan Little, an African-American woman who was the first woman in United States history to be acquitted using the defense that she used deadly force to resist sexual assault. Her experience changed the course of history and helped fuel the civil rights, feminist and prisoners’ rights movements.
By Azriela Reed, Bilingual Resource Advocate in Baton Rouge
Joan [Jo-Ann] Little became a unique civil rights symbol to the Black Power, feminist, and prisoners’ rights movements in the 70s. At 19 years old, Little found herself the sole female inmate at Beauford Country Jail in Washington, NC (Little Washington), sentenced to 7 to 10 years for breaking and entering. At 4 am on August 27, 1974, 81 days into her de facto solitary confinement, the town policeman entered the jail to find the night jailer, lying dead in Little’s cell bunk. Clarence Alligood, Beauford County’s night jailer had come into Joan Litte’s cell demanding oral sex and threatening her with the ice pick. After he finished, Little was able to wrestle the ice pick away while his guard was down, stabbed him to get free, and ran away. Joan was declared a fugitive, but Little turned herself in with the help of a lawyer. Joan was charged with first-degree murder, which carried an automatic death sentence in North Carolina. Her case came to be known as the “The Joan Little Case” and is best known for pioneering the new method of scientific jury selection. Joan Little was the first woman in the United States to be acquitted by claiming that she used deadly force to resist sexual assault as a defense. Feminists were supportive of her right to protect herself from sexual assault, Civil rights activists used her case to highlight police brutality, and prisoners’ rights groups saw this as a way to fight against the death penalty. Joan became a pivotal symbol of change and lives on to this day.
A Letter to Joan
#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression. We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.