We are CLOSING OUT Black History Month 2019! The MONTH just FLEW BY! We will CONTINUE to champion and CELEBRATE the GREAT CONTRIBUTIONS to this COUNTRY and BEYOND by MY PEOPLE!
Before the MONTH is out we have to RECOGNIZE the HARDWORKING BLACKS that helped to REBUILD this COUNTRY–LITERALLY.
Let’s talk about CONVICT LEASING. Convict leasing was a system of penal labor practiced in the Southern United States. Convict leasing provided prisoner labor to private parties, such as plantation owners and corporations (e.g. Tennessee Coal and Iron Company). The lessee was responsible for feeding, clothing, and housing the prisoners.
The state of Louisiana leased out convicts as early as 1844, but the system expanded all through the South with the emancipation of slaves at the end of the American Civil War in 1865. It could be lucrative for the states: in 1898, some 73% of Alabama’s entire annual state revenue came from convict leasing.
While northern states sometimes contracted for prison labor, the historian Alex Lichtenstein notes that,only in the South did the state entirely give up its control to the contractor; and only in the South did the physical “penitentiary” become virtually synonymous with the various private enterprises in which convicts labored.
Corruption, lack of accountability, and racial violence resulted in “one of the harshest and most exploitative labor systems known in American history.”African Americans, mostly adult males, due to “vigorous and selective enforcement of laws and discriminatory sentencing,” made up the vast majority—but not all—of the convicts leased.
The writer Douglas A. Blackmon described the system:
It was a form of bondage distinctly different from that of the antebellum South in that for most men, and the relatively few women drawn in, this slavery did not last a lifetime and did not automatically extend from one generation to the next. But it was nonetheless slavery – a system in which armies of free men, guilty of no crimes and entitled by law to freedom, were compelled to labor without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced to do the bidding of white masters through the regular application of extraordinary physical coercion.
U.S. Steel is among American companies who have acknowledged using African-American leased convict labor. The practice peaked around 1880, was formally outlawed by the last state (Alabama) in 1928, and persisted in various forms until it was abolished by President Franklin D. Roosevelt via Francis Biddle’s “Circular 3591” of December 12, 1941.
Convict leasing is America’s shame, but we don’t have to be ashamed of its victims. It’s time to force a larger public recognition of incarcerated laborers. In Atlanta and Sugar Land, Texas, efforts are being made to memorialize convict laborers.
Between 1866 and 1928, every Southern state in America practiced convict leasing. Convict leasing was a system that allowed private companies to lease felony prisoners from the state for a fee. Black men, women, and youth were their primary targets. A minor charge such as “simple larceny” could cost an individual 20 years of his or her life, and only if the individual survived. Approximately 90 percent of all leased prisoners were black men; three percent were black women. Youth were represented in much smaller numbers.
They built railroads, cut sugarcane, made bricks, mined coal, harvested turpentine, sawed lumber, and picked cotton. Many died in the process. Some were murdered by vicious “whipping bosses” (white men hired to inflict punishment on convict laborers). Others perished from disease or injuries sustained on the job. Pregnant women sometimes died from complications during childbirth, or from injuries that followed. Prisoners paid for their alleged crimes with their lives while southern businessmen amassed fortunes from their labor. Between 1906 and 1907, roughly 1,000 prisoners leased to the Georgia-based Chattahoochee Brick Company produced close to 33 million bricks, generating sales of $239,402—or nearly $5.2 million today.
Without these forced laborers, the region’s economy never would have recovered and state treasuries would have remained empty. On a national level, states that did not utilize the convict lease system earned only 32 percent of their overall expenses, while those that did exploit convict labor earned 267 percent. In 1886 alone, the state of Alabama drew in close to $100,000 in revenue, which was equivalent to one-tenth of the state’s combined income.
This is a DISCUSSION that is very DEEP and UPSETTING but stil a part of AMERICAN HISTORY! For more VISIT THE ROOT!