"In 1871, Tennessee leased its nearly eight hundred prisoners, nearly all of them Black to Thomas O'Conner, a founding partner along with Arthur Colyar of Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Co. In the four decades after the war, as Coylar built his company into an industrial behemoth, its center of operations gradually shifted to Alabama, where it was increasingly apparent that truly vast reserves of coal and iron ore lay beneath the surface.
Colyar, like Milner, was one of those prominent southern businessmen who bridged the era of slavery and the distinct new economic opportunities of the region at the end of the nineteenth century. They were true slavers, raised in the old traditions of bondage, but also men who believed that African Americans under the lash were the key to building an industrial sector in the South to fend off the growing influence of northern capitalists.
Already, Whites realized that the combination of trumped-up legal charges and forced labor as punishment created both a desirable business proposition and an incredibly effective tool for intimidating rank-and-file emancipated African Americans and doing away with their most effective leaders.
The newly installed White government of Hale County- deep in the majority Black cotton growing sections of Alabama- began leasing prisoners to private parties in August 1875. A local grand jury said the new practice was 'contributing much to the revenues of the county, instead of being an expense.' The money derived from selling convicts was placed in the Fine and Forfeiture Fund, which was used to pay fees to judges, sheriffs, other low officials, and witnesses who helped convict defendants...
By the end of 1877, fifty convict laborers were at work in Milner's Newcastle Coal Company mine outside Birmingham. An additional fifty-eight men had been forced into the Eureka mines he founded near Helena. A total of 557 prisoners had been turned over that year to private corporations by the state of Alabama." -From, "Slavery By Another Name" By: Douglas A. Blackmon