As stated above the convict leasing system started in Alabama. Alabama started the convict leasing system almost twenty years before the rest of the southern states, beginning in 1846, and throughout the time Alabama continually had the harshest conditions. In 1883 almost forty years after the start of convict leasing in Alabama ten percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. Then in 1893 seventy-three percent of Alabama’s total revenue came from the convict leasing system. The death rates of this time for leased convicts was nearly ten times higher than convicts in the northern nonlease states.
An example of this is in 1873 when twenty-five percent of all black leased convicts died. Under the system of convict leasing system companies and sometimes even individuals paid a fee to the state or to a county in exchange for labor done by prisoners. The prisoners would then be sent to farms, lumberyards, or coal mines. After they were arrested and convicted of a crime then the prisoners were then directly transported to the work site and they would work on this site during the duration of their sentence.
The majority of the convicts in Alabama worked for private businesses and they generated huge amounts of revenue for the state and the counties. An example of this in y the 1880s thousands of prisoners worked under the convict leasing system in coal mines which were located around the area of Birmingham, Alabama. Prisoners of the state that were convicted of felonies worked on the railroad where there were extremely high death rates. The state of Alabama was not paid by the railroad companies, though the state did save some money because they did not have to pay for housing or food for their state prisoners.
Alabama and its counties actually did not gain any revenue from the leasing of convicts until there was a fiscal crisis during 1875. This compelled Alabama to look for a different way to gain revenue for the state. That is when John G. Bass, the state’s warden, decided there would be a new policy where individual prisoners to different industrial businesses for payments such as a monthly fee. Bass did this by ranking the prisoners into three classes according to what they are able to do according to their physical abilities, the fee from their conviction, and finally from their skill set.
After Bass started this system within the Alabama prison the revenue in Alabama increased dramatically. They made a profit of around $11,000 to $12,000 that first year. A first-hand account of a convict’s story can be found in Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon. This story follows the journey of John Davis of Alabama. John Davis owned a small stretch of cotton in Nixburg, Alabama where he and his wife worked night and day to work the land they owned. Davis’s wife, Nora, and their daughter, Alice, left Davis behind to pick the cotton, so that they could make their way to Nora’s parents’ house.
A few weeks after Davis’s family left he received news that his wife was deathly ill, so on September 10, 1901 Davis left his cotton and headed toward the No. 1 train where he could jump on the train and head toward Goodwater, Alabama where he would be within walking distance of Nora’s parents’ house. Arriving in Goodwater Davis got off the train with all the other impoverished men and women who were riding the train. Walking through town John Davis was stopped by Robert N. Franklin who owned the General Store in Goodwater.
Franklin came out of the shadows on the street and asked Davis, “Nigger, have you got any money? ” John knew what this question meant when it was asked. It was a question asking the black man to prove his right to freedom and even his right to be alive. Davis and Franklin both knew that a black man traveling alone in Alabama could be arrested and convicted for vagrancy no matter what the explanation. Later that night the County Constable showed up to Franklin’s store and arrested Davis. Davis was dragged through town toward the train that he just left a few hours earlier.
When Davis arrived he was tied to the caboose of the train with four other black men who Franklin and the County Constable had seized in the last forty-eight hours. The next day the County Constable came and got Davis and the four other men and put them on the train to Birmingham and told them that they were going to see Mr. Pace. Pace was a large, tall man who made his money as a farmer. Davis was given two options to either pay $75 immediately or to be handed over to Mr. Pace. Everyone in the encounter knew what Davis would have to do.
He would have to choose to go with Pace because Davis had no money on him at the time. D marked a document that he could not read with his “X” and he had no clue what he was promising only that he had too. What the document said was that Davis agreed to being locked up in a cell at night, to submit to treatment that convicts were treated to, and it authorized that should Pace advance him anything that was more than he had already furnished Davis then Davis agreed to work until he had paid the same amount in full. For all purposes under this contract Pace owned John Davis.
John Davis was supposed to work for Pace a year but that year came and went. Just like a slave Davis was treated to beatings, he was over worked, and even starved sometimes if he did not do what was wanted of him. John Davis’s story is just a small example of the people who were forced into the convict leasing system. Douglas A. Blackmon’s book is the book that scholars point to when talking about the subject. The New York Times says, “Blackmon’s way of organizing this material is to bookend his legal and historical chronicle with the personal story of Green Cottenham, a black man born free in the mid-1880s.
This gets “Slavery by Another Name” off to a shaky start, if only because many of Blackmon’s wordings are speculative. The book underscores that if black Americans’ enslavement to U. S. Steel (which, when it acquired the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company, became a prime offender) is analogous to the slavery that occurred in Nazi Germany, it also emphasizes that the American slaves’ illiteracy meant there would be no written records of their experience. So imagining Green’s experience becomes something of a stretch.
But as soon as it gets to more verifiable material, “Slavery by Another Name” becomes relentless and fascinating. It exposes what has been a mostly unexplored aspect of American history (though there have been dissertations and a few books from academic presses). It creates a broad racial, economic, cultural and political backdrop for events that have haunted Blackmon and will now haunt us all. And it need not exaggerate the hellish details of intense racial strife. The torment that Blackmon catalogs is, if anything, understated here.
But it loudly and stunningly speaks for itself. ” Another review come the St. Louis Post-Dispatch which describes Blackmon’s book as, ”Slavery by Another Name” is a formidably researched, powerfully written, wrenchingly detailed narrative of the mistreatment of millions of blacks in America, mistreatment that kept African-Americans in shackles of the body and mind long after slavery had officially ended.
The decades of “re-enslavement,” Blackmon argues, must be taken into account when trying to assess the damage done to AfricanAmericans by centuries of involuntary servitude. Certainly, the great record of forced labor across the South demands that any consideration of the progress of civil rights remedy in the U. S. must acknowledge that slavery, real slavery, didn’t end until 1945,” he writes. ” Reviewing this book can seem difficult at times because of the nature of the book but when reading this book I gained a greater emotional connection to the subject of the convict leasing system. Blackmon connects the readers to the African-Americans during this time by telling their stories.
When I first started to read the book it felt almost like the stories were made up or that this could not have really happened. Though as Blackmon continues the book the research that he uses and the real-life stories in weaves into the book allows for the reader to see that this really did happen in American history in the southern states. Overall as it seems from the above reviews Blackmon’s book is one that will be around for years to come and it will remain the starting work for more research on the convict leasing system and those years of American history.