Black History Month: A Brief History of Bail Funds

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The story of communities coming together to purchase people’s freedom has been essential to every movement for Black liberation and racial justice – from abolition, to the Civil Rights Movement, all the way until the Black Mamas Bailout and other similar efforts of today.

Pooling funds together to purchase someone’s freedom dates back centuries, to when free Black Americans, oftentimes through their church congregations, would pool together funds to free enslaved people.

In the 20th century, bail funds as political tools of resistance began to spring up. In the 1940s, for example, The Civil Rights Congress (CRC)  – a legal defense organization which fought against the death penalty for Black defendants – created a bail fund to assist those charged with “political crimes.”

By 1951, the CRC’s bail fund had amassed around $770,000 and helped raise awareness of a number of cases, like Rosa Ingram’s. They had also freed countless people incarcerated for being suspected political dissidents. However, the CRC’s bail fund was perhaps too effective in fighting back – in 1952, the federal government deemed the bail fund too “subversive” and liquidated it.


Throughout the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, dozens of new funds were created by racial justice organizations to fuel the momentum of activists and ensure that people incarcerated for fighting for racial equity and equality were able to persist.

In 1965, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP created a bail fund for activists fighting for school integration in Springfield, MA – a northern city that saw a huge increase in the Black population during the Great Migration and subsequently passed a host of anti-Black laws.

Source: MassLive


When 44 Black and white activists were arrested for campaigning in Springfield, CORE and NAACP worked quickly to raise money for bail so that the movement could continue.

These are just two examples of countless bailout actions throughout the 20th century to free activists and ordinary people alike. From serving as a lifeline for social movements to their current use as a potent tool to end mass incarceration, bailouts carry forward the torch of freedom into the 21st century. We’re honored to build on this rich legacy by taking the bail fund model to the next level.