Originally charged with the 1974 murder of a white jailer, Joan Little was ultimately acquitted on Aug. 15, 1975. Her defense claimed that Little, who was in prison at the time, had stabbed the jailer with an ice pick in defense when he assaulted her sexually.
Little became the first woman in the United States, regardless of race, to be acquitted using the defense that she used deadly force to prevent sexual assault.
Focusing attention on a women’s right to defend herself from rape, capital punishment and racial inequalities in the criminal justice system, Little’s trial aroused campaigning amongst the civil rights, feminist and anti-death penalty movements.
“Those of us — women and men — who are black or people of color must understand the connection between racism and sexism that is so strikingly manifested in [Joan Little’s] case,” wrote activist Angela Davis in a 1975 Ms. magazine article.
“Those of us who are white and women must grasp the issue of male supremacy in relationship to the racism and class bias which complicate and exacerbate it,” Davis continued.