Thursday, October 2, 2008

Slavery After Emancipation: A Morning In The Life Of A Prisoner Of The Convict Leasing System

In his book, "Slavery By Another Name," Douglas A. Blackmon, describes what an early part of the day was like for Black men who were prisoners of the convict leasing system.

These men were basically kidnapped, and charged with crimes that they didn't commit. They were then shipped off to be free labor for corporations. Read the aforementioned description below:

"[They] spent every day but one in a vast labyrinth of black rock tunnels. shared only by dozens of mules and squadrons of desperate men, all slick with sweat and coated in pulverized coal. The absence of sunlight, vegetation, or any prospect for the touch of a not venal human hand had to tear at [their] soul.

Long before sunrise each morning, two White men swung open the doors from the entryway at the center of the wooden prison barrack and pushed into the rancid wooden cavern where two hundred Black men, chained to one another, lay wrapped in coarse blankets. Running the fifty-foot length of the room, a continual series of bunk beds dangling on pipes attached to the ceiling were piled with bodies. Where there was no space on a surface, men draped themselves in suspended contortions across canvas hammocks stretched between the bunks on either side of a marrow aisle down the center. A single potbellied stove, long gone cold, stood at the center of the room.

The sudden opening of the door ushered in a blast of crisp spring air, cutting with swift relief through the musty wet stink of the men, still sheathed in the black detritus of the mine waiting for them outside. As the guards moved toward the opposite end of the room, releasing the men's irons from chains looped through their beds and barking for reluctant prisoners to wake, the men responded in an awkward collective undulation. As each awakened and moved, a succession of pairs of legs and irons slid wearily toward the keys held in the hands of the guard, each time pulling the legs of the next man toward the guard as well, and then the next, all of them spilling gradually off the bunks in a long, groggy metallic jungle.

Once on their feet and refastened to their chains, the column of prisoners filed out through the front stoop, down the wooden steps and into a plain kitchen. Each man stuffed a biscuit and a cut of cold bacon into his mouth and shuffled out the door. At the point of shotguns, they tramped into the deep darkness, across the bare yard, past the pen of bloodhounds trained to track 'Negro scent,' past the barrel across which men were stretched naked almost nightly to be whipped with a leather strap, out the mammoth gate of the stockade, and up to the orifice where they would enter the earth." -From, "Slavery By Another Name" By: Douglas A. Blackmon

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