Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South

Article excerpt

Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South. By Talitha L. LeFlouria. Justice, Power, and Politics. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pp. [xvi], 257. $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-2247-7.)

Believing that historians of convict labor have previously operated in a "masculinist realm ... where a woman's worth is least regarded," author Talitha L. LeFlouria set herself the task "of creating voice" for the roughly 3 percent of Georgia prisoners who were African American women between 1868 and the mid-1930s (p. 189). In doing so, she has tried to force a reconsideration of the meaning of such labor itself. The "silence" of her title refers not only to the voices of female convicts but also to the absences, evasions, and restrictions of the sources.

I remember the shock I felt forty years ago while reading accounts of women incarcerated in coal camps and brick factories, being sentenced to coal mines with a baby at the breast, and giving birth in forced labor camps. I thought that I could never imagine what those experiences must have been like. LeFlouria, however, leaves nothing to the imagination. She uncovers the exact locations of the camps and farms where black women suffered through dreadful sentences, often for specifically "Negro crimes" such as '"larceny from the house'" and '"disorderly conduct'" (pp. 21, 33). Her repeated resort to such locutions as "[t]he imprisoned black female body" can feel clinical, almost cold, but her purpose is to render the lives of captive African American women as essentially embodied, black, female experiences--entailing specific medical conditions, maternal obligations, sexual identities, and "psychological issues" (p. 78).

LeFlouria also argues that, in contrast to neighboring Alabama, Georgia made few efforts to separate men and women when it came to labor assignments (with the exception of mining). …

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