Monday, May 10, 2010

This Week in Savagery

From World Socialist, "100 years ago: 36 black prison workers die in stockade fire.

Convict labor in the US South.

Thirty-six black prison laborers were killed after the coal mine stockade where they were forced to work caught fire. There were “few survivors” according to a press account, among them three white inmates. The men were leased to the Red Feather Coal Company by the state of Alabama’s penal system.

There was little media coverage of the disaster. The New York Times dutifully repeated company claims that the fire was started by an inmate attempting to escape. “Among those who burned is the Negro who started the blaze,” according to the Times. How this could have been established if the man had died, the Times did not bother to report.

The “rescue” effort was primarily concerned with seeing to it that no one escaped. Or, as the Times put it, the effort “to guard the prisoners who were hurried outside greatly hampered rescue work.” Indeed, one of the 36 killed “was fatally shot by guards while attempting to escape.” The Times concluded that “it was with much difficulty” that the few survivors “were prevented from eluding the guards.”

The forced labor of prison convicts emerged in the South in the 1870s after the US Civil War (1861-1865) had abolished slavery. “Southern justice” routinely rounded up black men, as well as poor whites, who were then sold for a fee to mines, railroads, and other interests. The men were not paid, had no rights, and were subject to savage beatings."

---- Although prefaced with "convict labor in the US South" and a photo of black men on a chain gang, the gist of the blurp is saying look, look, see how racist the US South is - burning poor black prisoners who were forced to labor under god awful conditions. "They" abolished slavery and made us inmates, while the North paid pennies to lock white women and children in factories - leave it to the racist South to force the black convict into labor to benefit the companies who sold coal to fuel the factories in the progressive North.

WSWS insinuates that "the Negro who started the blaze" was framed because the NYT did not explain how his guilt was established since he died in the fire. Typical, just typical, blame the black man. Although I suspect the remaining prisoners and guards who survived pointed fingers as to who and how the blaze began.

Then there's the obligatory WSWS reminder of Hillbill Whitey and his "southern justice" for black men. Hinting times haven't really changed that much for the poor downtrodden black man - still a target for those evil white capitalists.

I'll further the convict labor history a bit. From 1866 to 1937, all across the US, states leased convict labor. The Brits did the same thing between 1607-1776 by sending convicts to US colonies - particularly Quakers, Scottish Covenanters, Monmouth Rebels, and other political and military trouble makers. After the Revolution they had to ship their criminal, mainly white folks, to Australia.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, U.S. miners were strongly against the convict-lease system, as it depressed wages, and the practice instigated several miner rebellions. In 1891 Tennessee miners initiated guerrilla attacks at Briceville in Anderson County. In the initial confrontation, three hundred miners surrounded the stockade, took charge of the forty prisoners, marched them and their guards five miles to Coal Creek, sealed them in boxcars, and shipped them to Knoxville. The miners requested the intervention of Governor John P. Buchanan to protect the rights of labor. The governor agreed to meet with the miners, but ordered three companies of state militia to restore order and return the convicts to Briceville.

Of course, nothing changed much until around 1930s, about the same time child labor was outlawed. Convict labor did help spur the growth of unions.

Even so, prison labor was not abolished, simply "restricted" and spruced up a bit and today, psychologists and social experts agree, work is considered a necessary part of the rehabilitation of criminals. (Is calling a convict a "criminal" P.C.?) The main work of prisoners now is maintenance activities, outdoor public works (farming, road building, reforestation), telemarketing... And of course the living conditions are much much much better. Mandatory labor today is termed "work-release" and "job training" or the "prison industries" sort of like cottage industries but without the home-based warm fuzzy ... well, I guess it is home to some men.

Today, compared to previous times, prisons are quite comfortable - cable tv, gym, clean clothes, regular meals, health care, counselors, religious or spiritual accommodations, college courses, libraries, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Hmm ... taxpayer provided food, clothing, shelter, education, entertainment, medical care ... prison almost sounds like ... socialism? Maybe we are all in the process of being rehabilitated for USA Supermax.

Frederick Douglass, in 1893 wrote of the convict-lease system, giving 2 reasons why the majority of convicts were black. First: "The religious, moral and philanthropic forces of the country — all the agencies which tend to uplift and reclaim the degraded and ignorant, are in the hands of the Anglo-Saxon. Not only has very little effort been made by these forces to reclaim the Negro from the ignorance, immorality and shiftlessness with which he is charged, but he has always been and is now rigidly excluded from the enjoyment of those elevating influences toward which he felt voluntarily drawn. In communities where Negro population is largest and these counteracting influences most needed, the doors of churches, schools, concert halls, lecture rooms, Young Men's Christian Associations, and Women's Christian Temperance Unions, have always been and are now closed to the Negro who enters on his own responsibility. Only as a servant or inferior being placed in one corner is he admitted. The white Christian and moral influences have not only done little to prevent the Negro becoming a criminal, but they have deliberately shut him out of everything which tends to make for good citizenship."

Fred, that is rather disappointing. Douglass, born into slavery, sold, beaten, escaped, self-educated, world traveler, author, statesman - did not wait for the Anglo-Saxons or the YMCA to lift him from "ignorance, immorality, and shiftlessness."

Douglass' second reason is the same still heard today, although certainly more true in 1900 - that of the unfair sentences meted out to black men.

(Also irksome to me, Douglass was president of the Freedman's Savings Bank (1865-1874) which collapsed taking million$ from the black community - due to corruption, shady investments, speculation, etc., like today. Douglass stepped in at the last minute to "boost the morale of depositors and investors." An intelligent man, he had to know what was going on - what did he know and when did he know it.)

Anyway, I'm tired of the redundant stories of life's unfairness, particularly to black America.

Perhaps Douglass was the forerunner to Jessie or Al - you know, in one breath calling you an ignorant degraded shiftless nigger and in the next breath blaming it on whitey.

(That reminds me, anyone ever explain why Jessie wanted to cut off Obama's huevos? )


kf said...

Wonder if Jesse had hoped Jr would be sitting where Barry is. . .

You know, I just can't not like Al - ever since he out-debated Christopher Hitchens while besting Hitchens in the gentleman category as well. I like Al in the god business but that's about it.


kf said...

On second thought maybe he did not out-debate Hitchens - but he held his own and the rest of the sentence stands :)

Kate-A said...

I admit I haven't seen Al debate, other than the short TV panel appearances. But he's a crook and liar - not paying his taxes, accepting millions from large corporations over the years in "donations" to his nonprofits - some say to keep him from calling a boycott of their products. The Twana Brawley thing.

He's like so many "leaders" - he can keep an issue going w/o letting facts get in the way - if there's a dollar to be made or a guest appearance to mug.

Sometimes though even Al can say something I agree with - but he's still a liar and crook. :)

Content © 2005-2020 by Kate/A.