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Prison Industry History (2)…

…This article is continued from yesterday, October 20th, 2010…

At the conclusion of the American Civil War, white Southerners soon enacted political control over the newly emancipated slaves.  Initially, the exception clause to the 13th Amendment (1865; outlawing slavery) allowed a form of re-enslavement by criminalizing blacks.

Col. “Ned” Richardson

Most blacks remained where they were working as tenants or field hands at whatever was paid them.  One Union officer was quoted as stating, “To be free and black in Mississippi is first to beg, then to steal, and then to starve.  That is their reality.”  For all too many, that more or less became their lot over the next 100 years.

White Southerners used the power that was available to them:  Political power over the laws.  David M. Oshinski’s book, Worse Than Slavery…” (1997), tracks how the political and justice system was used as a tool to re-enslave many blacks, to disenfranchise the race from all political power, to dehumanize them as a people before society, and to lay the foundation for the modern prison/industry system in America.

Mississippi enacted a variety of Black Codes to control the labor supply, and to ensure the superior position of whites.  These codes were copied throughout the South.

To enforce the codes, crimes were created that specifically targeted free blacks.  These included: mischief, insulting gestures, vagrancy, enticement to other work, selling and consuming alcohol, possessing firearms, fraternizing with whites, etc.

The penalty for interracial marriage alone was “confinement in the state pen for life.”  Of course, since Mississippi was a leader in extra-judicial lynchings, even making it to trial was problematical.

Freedmen’s Bureau

The vast majority of these codes were enforced thru fines.  Few could afford them.  A $50 fine effectively allowed the sheriff to auction off the “offender” to any white man who paid it.  Local planters were the main players.   Blacks would often find themselves re-enslaved on the very same plantations they had been freed from.

One of the central differences was that, formerly, a slave was a valuable investment to his master.  The loss of a convict on the other hand cost practically nothing.  In fact, it served to terrorize the others.

Edmund Richardson in Mississippi was one of the original private prison entrepreneurs.  At the conclusion of the war, Colonel “Ned” Richardson—a cotton merchant–was bankrupt.  But by 1868, striking a bargain with the federal authorities to use criminal labor for involuntary servitude, he contracted with the state of Mississippi, which paid him $18,000 a year for their black prisoners.

The deal included their transportation to Richardson’s Yazoo Delta cotton plantations.  In return, he got to keep all the profits derived from their labor.  He eventually had over 50 cotton plantations throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.  He parlayed that wealth into vast holdings of banks, steamboats and railroads.  He was the largest cotton planter in the world.

The lesson for other states and entrepreneurs in the South wasn’t lost.  Businessmen throughout the South went into private prisons and convict leasing big time, especially after the Union abandoned the South altogether in 1877 in the sell-out election of Rutherford B. Hayes.  In return for the South’s electoral votes, Hayes agreed to pull out the Union Army and the Freedman’s Bureau.

Blacks were abandoned to the tender mercies of white justice, convict leasing, and the Klan.  Mass terrorism was perfected right here long before we ever stepped foot in the Middle East.

               Dr. Publico

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