One June 20th, 2020, the Debs Foundation and Museum hosted our third annual (and first virtual) Debs Day. Twenty-seven readers, from Los Angeles to New York, Atlanta to Chicago, and back to Terre Haute, brought Debs’ words to life with a virtual reading of his prison writings, Walls and Bars. Other relevant texts were included, such as Debs’ 1918 Statement to the Court, as well as testimonials by Hellen Keller, Ralph Chaplin, and James Whitcomb Riley.
A captioned recording of the event is now available.
About Walls and Bars
Exactly 100 years ago, Eugene V. Debs was serving a ten-year prison sentence in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. His crime? Speaking out against the First World War in his famous Canton Speech of 1918. Undeterred, Debs led his fifth and final presidential campaign from his prison cell, earning nearly a million votes for the Socialist ticket in November of 1920.
Prison life profoundly affected Debs. As he experienced inhumane prison conditions, Debs also witnessed the common humanity of his fellow prisoners. He described these experiences in a series of articles and essays. In 1927, his brother Theodore published these writings in the volume Walls and Bars shortly after Eugene Debs’ death. Beyond simply describing prison life and conditions, Debs created a blueprint for solving the problems of incarceration by addressing what he saw as the root of crime: unmet social and economic needs. Walls and Bars connects crime and prisons to the economic conditions created by capitalism, forging a path to abolishing prisons as we know them by transforming our economic system.