Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865-1900

By Daniels, Douglas Henry | South Carolina Historical Magazine, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865-1900


Daniels, Douglas Henry, South Carolina Historical Magazine


Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865-1900. By Mary Ellen Curtin. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000. Pp. xi, 261; $59.50, cloth.)

In a riveting analysis of black prisoners in Alabama in the late 19th century, Curtin reveals the connections between the profit motive, the alleged increase in crime, the increasing black prison population and white racism. By detailing these interrelationships, Curtin clarifies some very disturbing patterns for any opponent of racism or lover of democracy. She also explains why political reforms to improve the conditions of life of the prisoners failed. Perhaps most remarkable are the numerous parallels that she draws in the last chapter with Alabama a hundred years ago and the mushrooming prison population in the United States today, which at two million, has the largest number of convicts of any nation in the world.

Also impressive are the rich sources she has mined-prison and government records, prisoners' correspondence, testimony from hearings and data from the corporations which leased the convicts. Some earlier historians' and the public's misconceptions concerning the failure of Reconstruction, the corruption of black freedmen, their descent into a life of crime, and the need to punish and discipline them wither in the face of Curtin's relentless analysis. She does not rely upon newly discovered records or sophisticated quantitative or other faddish techniques to disprove these nostrums. In this respect, her approach is similar to that of Peter Wood's Black Majority. She examines documents which others have utilized but with fresh insights and new questions.

Political and economic realities dictated the treatment of Alabama freedmen and the eventual utilization of convict labor in the coal mines, industry and agriculture at every juncture. "The failure of Reconstruction shaped the fate of black prisoners in late 19th century Alabama" (p. 9). During this federal attempt to absorb newly-emancipated slaves into a democratic government and social structure, "a solid practice of whites turning to the courts to prosecute African Americans for purposes of social control" developed (p. 9). The infamous Black Codes were one instrument southerners used to control blacks. Plantation owners were also notorious for not paying black workers. It is noteworthy that Republicans were indifferent to the conditions of life in the prisons when they controlled the state. When Democrats drove them out of power, white supremacists were determined to remove African Americans from any meaningful position in society except as humble subjects and avid consumers.

The economic plight of the "redeemers" regimes caused them to turn to the coal mining companies and other industries for the cash revenue they so sorely needed. The Tennessee Coal and Iron and the Pratt Coal and Coke companies paid for the right to work, house, feed and discipline state and county prisoners, relieving government of the expense of accommodating the growing prison population. Conditions of life were so brutal that, as Curtin explained, "Pratt prison mines sucked in labor and spat out cripples, the dead and the fortunate who survived." (p. 197) An extremely high death rate, prison escapes, mine explosions and crippling accidents, suffocating gases, leg chains and brutal beatings whittled away at the prison population-mostly African Americans. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865-1900
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.