On Reconstruction Era Slave Labor

The convict lease system was a way to provide cheap labor for those that formerly used slave labor after the civil war ended slavery. I was surprised to learn of its existence. It is not well covered in U.S. history. As many as 800,000 black citizens were forced to be convict-lease-workers as a consequence of unjust sentences for a variety of sometimes non-felony charges. With as high of a mortality rate as 50% in lease-labor positions the sentences were blatant violations of just punishment.

In the reconstruction south there was a reorganization required socially as well as reconstruction of southern infrastructure without slave labor. Since so much of the ante-bellum south had slave labor as an integral part of their economic system its sudden disappearance caused a great shock to the system.

Instead of going too far into an historical analysis of the adjustments required for the economy of the post-war south I will just point out the obvious (after watching the video), that local law enforcement used their power to arrest and convict to obtain a prison labor force of convicts that could be leased to capitalists and former slavers for the same work that slaves did.

The video pointed out that the industrialization of the post-war south was accomplished with what effectively was slave labor doing much of the heavy labor.  John T. Milner was cited as a particular industrialist-racist who exploited slave labor to help coal mining and railroad building etc.

Because convict labor of this sort existed until 1923 some assume that black convicts today in the third millennium represent a continuum of oppression for purposes of putting down black males. That is an exceedingly superficial view of history even though there are still racists (of any  race) in the south and elsewhere.


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