Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865-1900
- Binding: Paperback
- Publisher: Univ of Virginia Pr
- Publish date: 10/01/2000
- ISBN: 9780813919843
- ISBN10: 0813919843
To coal companies and the state of Alabama, black prisoners provided, respectively, sources of cheap labor and state revenue. By 1883 a significant percentage of the workforce in the Birmingham coal industry was made up of convicts. But to the families and communities from which the prisoners came, the convict lease was a living symbol of the dashed hopes of Reconstruction.
Indeed, the lease -- the system under which the prisoners labored for the profit of the company and the state -- demonstrated Alabama's reluctance to let go of slavery, and its determination to pursue profitable prisons no matter what the human cost. Despite the efforts of prison officials, progressive reformers, and labor unions, the state refused to take prisoners out of the coal mines.
In the course of her narrative, Mary Ellen Curtin describes how some prisoners died while others endured unspeakable conditions and survived. Curtin argues that black prisoners used their mining skills to influence prison policy, demand better treatment, and become wage-earning coal miners upon their release.
Black Prisoners and Their World unearths new evidence about life under the most repressive institution in the New South. Curtinsuggests disturbing parallels between the lease and today's burgeoning system of private incarceration.