The University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries’ Robert S. Cox Special Collections and University Archives Research Center has acquired the Benjamin LaGuer Papers. LaGuer, who passed away in November of 2020 at the age of 57, spent two-thirds of his life in prison in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, convicted of a crime which he steadfastly denied he committed.
The initial collection — more than 20 boxes of legal papers, letters, photographs, video recordings of extensive press coverage, audio cassettes of conversations with the inmate, radio interviews and ephemera — capture some of the complexities at the intersection of race, justice, media and politics in Massachusetts and the United States. They also tell a story about higher education behind bars. LaGuer earned most of his credits toward a bachelor's degree as a UMass student. After transfer to the prison in Norfolk, he earned a degree in Liberal Studies from Boston University, graduating magna cum laude.
Joy James, a scholar who has written on LaGuer’s role, and the role of race, in Deval Patrick’s 2006 gubernatorial election, called the acquisition “an important contribution to Ben's memory and attempts for justice." James’ brief correspondence with the inmate is in the collection.
The Benjamin LaGuer Papers join other important collections at the Libraries’ Robert S. Cox Research Center that document the experience of incarceration and illuminate the legal system from a black inmate’s point of view. These collections include the papers of Tiyo Attalah Salah El, a prison abolition activist serving a life sentence; Frank “Parky” Grace, who was a founding member of the New Bedford Black Panther Party and was wrongly convicted of murder and released from prison after a decade; and Frankie Ziths, whose collection documents the activities of the National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners and the Black Panther Party’s efforts to free political prisoners across the country.
Along with hundreds of other collections in the Robert S. Cox Center documenting the fight for social change in the US, the LaGuer Papers provide a unique and valuable resource for understanding the history of social justice and for building tools to effect positive change.
“Bringing Ben’s papers to the Libraries reflects our commitment to preserving the voices of people whose stories aren’t typically reflected in the historical record,” says Aaron Rubinstein, head of the Robert S. Cox Center. “Opening these materials to students, scholars and the general public will continue the important conversation about race and the justice system in this country.”
LaGuer was a thinker and a writer who never stopped growing intellectually. As part of his advocacy, LaGuer devoted hours to writing the story of his own drama, especially the events and repercussions of a few days in July 1983 that put his life on an unimaginable course.
Items immediately available include the trial transcript, police reports, forensics, court filings, judicial decisions and legal correspondences, along with extensive press coverage of each phase of LaGuer’s battles.
More information on the Benjamin LaGuer papers can be found here: http://scua.library.umass.edu/laguer-benjamin/. Other reference materials can be found online:
Zoom Memorial, May 1, 2021 (YouTube)
Tragedy Times Two (YouTube) Contains new evidence that police arrested the wrong man.
Benjamin LaGuer and the Cruel Reality of Medical Parole (Commonwealth Magazine)
Ben LaGuer, 1963 - 2020. A self-made spirit in his own voice (Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon)
Unprecedented Miracles (from UMass Amherst Libraries’ Bookmark Magazine, Winter 2021-22) Password: Ben