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Forced Labor and Progress

Alex Lichtenstein26 February 2017

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Published as part of Verso's Haymarket Series in 1996, Alex Lichtenstein's Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South was the first book-length history of the convict-lease and chain gang systems of penal servitude in the Southern United States. Focusing on Georgia in the years between Reconstruction and the Great Depression, Lichtenstein traces the interwoven development of the region's notoriously brutal carceral forms and it's industrial and commercial expansion. "The postbellum history of Georgia's penal system," Lichenstein writes, "offers a clear illustration of how convict labor helped forge the peculiar New South 'Bourbon' political alliance, by accommodating the labor needs of an emerging class of industrialists without eroding the racial domination essential to planters."

In the text below, the book's epilogue, Lichtenstein expands on his findings in a broader historical consideration of the relation between coerced labor and economic development.

A Georgia road gang in Rockdale County in 1909, shortly after the state abolished convict leasing. (Vanishing Georgia Collection, Georgia Department of Archives and History).

“There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” –Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History”1

Diverse forms of forced labor have been found in many societies, under many conditions. Slavery and penal labor both existed in the ancient world. Serfdom shaped much of the character of premodern European social relations, and persisted well into the nineteenth century in Eastern Europe and Russia. As European societies shook off the last vestiges of feudalism, forced labor was carried to the New World, in a vast arc encompassing both the highlands and plantations of the Americas. In colonial Africa as well, European domination brought with it forms of coercive labor new to a continent that had long known indigenous slavery; and labor relations in industrialized South Africa under apartheid were clearly shaped by colonial strategies of labor extraction up until yesterday. Finally, Stalin's Gulag, and the Nazi labor and extermination camps, stand as horrific examples of forced labor in the modern world.

Bound labor has not always been associated with the fully developed chattel slavery oriented toward market production that gave the antebellum American South, for example, a distinctive character. In various guises this form of labor has both preceded and followed in the wake of chattel slavery. Forced labor has even developed in societies where the New World's peculiar form of ownership of one person by another, rationalized by bourgeois property relations, was unknown. Consistent features of this form of labor have included the collusion of the state, penal servitude as an enforcer of work, and intensification and expansion during periods of rapid economic development or transformation.

Coercive labor relations frequently aim to control a population reluctant to enter wage labor relations freely, and encourage the consequent proletarianization of these recalcitrant recruits to the “free” labor market. The beneficiaries of this process often justify its harshness as necessary and efficacious discipline for this emergent working class. In advanced societies such labor coercion has even been legitimized by resort to the ultimate expression of capitalist free labor relations, the contract. And when not controlled by individuals, forced labor has frequently been concentrated by the state on public works — pyramids, waterworks, and roadways.

Involuntary servitude has also been reserved as the fate for conquered combatants in war, for indigenous peoples in the New World and Africa, and for races deemed "inferior” by Europeans (and those of European descent) or Aryans. Its victims include both “enemies of the people,” and those declared "criminal” by a judicial rationale derived from enlightenment principles and bourgeois social relations. Everywhere, as the criminologist Thorsten Sellin has argued, slavery and punishment have been an inseparable dyad, in advanced as well as primitive societies. Indeed, as the “right” for individuals freely to dispose of their labor power as they saw fit (within the dictates of the market) increasingly came to define capitalist social relations, as it began to in the New South, the revocation of that right became the ultimate sanction. In putatively “modern” societies, where citizens value the rule of law, that right can only be limited by legal procedures restrained by, for example, constitutional legality. The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution expresses this bargain succinctly. But wherever the historical legacy of racialism has been conjoined to the identification of penal sanction with enslavement, as it was in the postbellum South, and really in the United States as a whole, the results for a society's vision of equality and labor have been profoundly destructive. This has been true even — perhaps especially — when forced labor contributed to economic development.2

One of the persistent themes of American history has been an abiding faith in progress and development; and one of the persistent themes of southern history has been the necessity for federal intervention to extend the benefits of progress to the nation's less "developed” region. Whether carried out by the Union Army, carpetbaggers, northern capital, technocratic "experts,” the judiciary, or, today, the forces of postindustrial economic change, this process has frequently revolved around the inseparable issues of labor and race. Free labor triumphed over slavery in the Civil War, but in their effort to reshape the South it was the original prophets of a New South, the Reconstructionists, who fastened the convict-lease upon the region's former bondspeople, as Hoke Smith took pains to remind the legislature when his administration finally abolished the system in Georgia.3 And it was those ersatz defenders of southern tradition, the Redeemers, who invited northern capital to help them reap the benefits of forced labor, as they developed the South's extractive sector. Finally, as a wave of Progressive reform brought an end to the convict lease, it was the federal agents of progress, the civil engineers of the US Office of Public Roads, who helped articulate and exploit the enormous contribution of the South's black forced labor pool to yet another vision of a New South.4

This continual correspondence between the forces of modernization and the perpetuation of bound labor was no anomaly. Even chattel slavery in the Americas was a crucial component in the historical development of capitalism.5 The various extreme forms of labor coercion and control that supplanted slavery in the modern world continued to demonstrate a "progressive” quality; rather than constituting an “archaic” obstacle to capitalist development, destined to be swept away by modernity, unfree labor has frequently been an essential element in the accumulation process that made that development possible.6

In the postbellum South, at each stage of the region's development, convict labor was concentrated in some of the most significant and rapidly growing sectors of the economy. Initially southern prisoners worked on the railroads, laying the indispensable infrastructure for nineteenth-century economic development. Then, as southern capitalists turned to the rapid development of the region's exploitable resources, convicts played a key role in the increasing vertical integration of extractive industries which required large concentrations of steady, predictable, controllable — i.e. proletarianized — labor. When the inflexible cost of this capitalized labor force became a detriment during sudden economic downturns, convict labor proved adaptable to other uses, particularly in seasonal and migratory extractive sectors, such as the lumber and turpentine industries. Finally, as many white southerners tired of the persistent underdevelopment that helped make unfree labor compatible with the exploitation of the region's raw materials in the first place, the chain gang came to replace the convict-lease as the dominant form of penal labor in the twentieth-century South.7 This decisive shift from private to public exploitation of forced black labor marked the triumph of the modern state's version of the social and economic benefits to be reaped from bound labor, in the name of developing a more healthy, less dependent, “progressive” economy. Thus, from Reconstruction through the Progressive Era the various uses of convict labor coincided with changes in the political economy of southern capitalism. In each case the impetus to harness forced labor to the project of infrastructural development and economic growth came not from those who yearned for the social and economic order of the slave South, but from the region's most ardent advocates of progress, who sought to reconcile modernization with the racial caste system.

Robert Elliott Burns's I am a Fugitive from the Georgia Chain Gang!, published in 1932, and the subsequent hit movie based on his book, cast a national spotlight on Georgia's horrendous penal system during the Depression era. Burns's focus on governmental corruption and ineptitude, his inaccurate portrayal of Georgia's penal system as a holdover from a discredited past, and the popular format of an adventure story against the odds all fit well with the country's mood in the early years of the economic crisis. The outcry occasioned by Burns's first-person account of the horrors of working the roads on a Georgia chain gang can only be considered ironic, however. Burns himself was a businessman, not an ardent social reformer following in the footsteps of George Washington Cable, Rebecca Latimer Felton, or Frank Tannenbaum, all of whom had earlier exposed the barbarity of southern punishment.8 Moreover, his story competed with contemporaneous attacks on the southern chain gang by writers considerably to his left.9 Nevertheless, Burns's account painted a grim and convincing portrait of a penal system governed by capricious cruelty, alternately beset by bureaucratic indifference and corruption, and driven by the desire to wring from felons their “debt” to the state in the coin of relentless hard labor on county roads.

Of course, I am a Fugitive pointed to another paradox as well: Burns was white. If penal reform in Georgia had done nothing to ameliorate the plight of the convict, what did begin to change with the advent of the chain gang was the racial composition of Georgia's convict force. Indeed, during the 1920s, the era in which Burns's narrative was set, Georgia's prison system became truly biracial for the first time in its history. Black critics of the convict-lease had long attributed the state's reluctance to punish whites to the system's brutalities and its association with slavery.10 In 1908, when convict-leasing came to an end in Georgia, there were only 322 white prisoners in a white population of 1.4 million. This incarceration rate of 23 prisoners per 100,000 whites was absurdly low by any historical standards. But if nearly 90 per cent of the state's felony convicts were black when the chain gang was instituted, two decades later 27 per cent of the prisoners were white, and the absolute number of white convicts had increased to 916.11

Contradictions abound in this transformation. In a state increasingly committed to segregation from cradle to grave, black and white convicts worked the roads together, chained to one another in full view of the public. Although its advocates initially deemed the chain gang especially appropriate for blacks, the abolition of leasing actually accommodated the criminal justice system to punishing white lawbreakers, since it diminished the hesitation of juries to mete out prison sentences to whites. Yet, at the same time, the resulting increased visibility of white prisoners began to erode the public faith in the benefits and justice of penal labor. The national horror which greeted Burns's tale cannot be divorced from the fact that this particular victim of the chain gang had white skin. Indeed in 1931 and 1932, an almost identical but far less celebrated case of suffering, desperate escape, and fugitive life was recounted by a black Georgian, Jesse Crawford, who with the help of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People successfully defeated Georgia's attempts to extradite him from Michigan, whence he had fled.12

Despite the scandal generated by I am a Fugitive, the southern convict road gang, like its predecessor the convict-lease, eventually began to succumb to economic and social forces which redefined the place of penal labor in the South's political economy, rather than to the renewed clamor for humanitarian penal reform. Even as early as World War I, the US Department of Agriculture noted that demobilization would create unemployment which could be partially contained by road work for the jobless. Indeed, in the 1920s southern states began to discover that in hard times road work might be necessary as a form of relief, partly because "idle negro labor ... is liable to produce a very acute and dangerous situation,” but also for the benefit of unemployed whites. In Georgia, in 1922, a state highway engineer, W.R. Neel, reported that he was "receiving letters ... asking why we do not start road work and give relief to so many unemployed people who are actually suffering throughout the state.”13

During the Great Depression, which hit the South particularly hard, the full realization dawned that “the more prisoners that are worked upon the roads the less opportunity is given citizens ..., many of whom formerly worked upon highways and are now seeking relief from the Welfare Agencies.” In 1931 a Georgia congressman, noting that “convicts are being used on the construction of some federal aid roads” in Georgia, angrily enquired of the Bureau of Public Roads, “what benefits may be derived from road construction in the relief of unemployment where the funds appropriated are used in the maintenance of convict labor?” The Bureau promptly replied that federal emergency appropriations to the states for road work as unemployment relief carried the explicit rider that "the use of convict labor on emergency Federal aid projects is prohibited.”14

This represented quite a change. Prior to the 1930s, besides the persistent advocacy — and even supervision — of convict road work by federal road engineers, in practice the most telling example of federal encouragement for the chain gang had been the willingness to accede to the demands of southern states that the region's counties be allowed to use convict labor as a matching contribution to federal grants-in-aid for road improvement.15 Since the passage of the Federal Road Aid Act of 1916, "a very considerable amount of highway work financed in part by Federal aid has been performed by convict labor in Georgia,” the head of the US Bureau of Public Roads admitted in 1930. Increasingly, however, after that year bankrupt and impoverished southern counties found they could no longer afford to maintain even the most rudimentary chain gang, and remanded their convicts to the state authorities. Combined with the growing importance of federal relief funds mandating that “no convict labor shall be employed on the project” and the consequent growth of a free labor road force, these fiscal and political constraints began to erode the importance of county chain gangs to the state's economy.16

Thus it was that in penology, as in so many other areas, the New Deal and Great Depression began the final assault against the “southern way of life.” Gradually, over the past sixty years, the chain gang has disappeared from the South's roads, and most southern prisons have conformed to the model prescribed by modern penology: huge penitentiaries which serve primarily as warehouses for society's permanently displaced and disemployed (former) citizens. Modern prison life, in the South now as in the rest of the United States, is defined by a numbing, brutal inactivity, an "enforced idleness,” which ironically even in the 1930s one historian of prisons thought to characterize as worse than the forced labor then prevailing on the southern chain gangs.17

Rather than “hard labor,” today's prisoners do “hard time.” But this, too, like its predecessors, reflects some fundamental facts about race and political economy in America. Racial disproportion is the most striking continuity in the history of southern, and indeed US, prisons. In Georgia, where today perhaps a quarter of the state's population is African-American, blacks make up 60 per cent of the prison population. The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world; but for African-Americans, more than half of those imprisoned in the United States, this rate is far higher still.18 African-Americans have always invoked the experience of enslavement and imprisonment — and escape — as powerful metaphors for injustice and the struggle against it. References to the Middle Passage, plantation slavery, the convict-lease, the chain gang, and the penitentiary abound in African-American folklore, song (especially work songs), and literature.19 Today, the words "Parchman' and "Angola,” the penal colonies of Mississippi and Louisiana respectively, still carry a chilling resonance for many African-Americans.20 Not only in the South, but in the USA as a whole, there is still no separating the question of punishment from the matter of race; and punishment has always been related to labor, both forced and free.

The status of work outside of penal institutions, as much as labor exploitation on the inside, has always shaped the nature of convict labor. Historically, a labor economist points out, in the United States “the racial duality of the criminal justice system evolved in tandem with the racial duality of the labor market”; in other words, penal systems have both defined African-Americans as a "criminal” class and helped channel their labor into the least rewarding sectors of the economy. One result of southern convict labor, for instance, was the degradation of labor in industries in which prisoners were concentrated; since these also happened to be the same industries with high concentrations of free black workers fleeing the agricultural labor market, this tended to exacerbate the southern association of the least desirable forms of nonagricultural labor with a racially subordinated class.21 The convict-lease, the chain gang, and the modern penitentiary have all reflected and reinforced African-Americans' location — or lack of it — in the American labor market.

In the postbellum South, at least until the Depression, perhaps until the postwar period, the criminal justice system served to exploit unfree black workers in order to help industrial capitalism through its developmental stages, and to terrorize free black workers into silent, if bitter, acceptance of their subordinate role in the economy and society, Not even northward migration, new (if temporary) opportunities in the labor market, the civil-rights struggles and partial victories, and the growth of the newest New South, the Sunbelt, have been able to dissolve the historical bonds of race, labor markets, poverty, and punishment. As capitalism has entered its advanced, or postindustrial, stage many African-Americans have essentially been shunted out of the labor market altogether. This recently created enormous surplus labor pool is no longer the object of exploitation, but simply of social control; prisons can keep young, unemployed blacks "permanently out of the labor market,” and those lucky enough to hold minimum-wage jobs can be thankful they are not in prison. When race was associated with compulsion, punishment emphasized compulsory labor and proletarianization; when it is associated with idleness, punishment means restraint and control of a de-proletarianized "lumpen” class. For today, when structural unemployment, deindustrialization, and social dislocation have their most dramatic impact on the African-American community, incarceration is often the fate reserved for the so-called "black underclass,” the chronically disemployed who populate the nation's penal colony.22

In an era defined by radical attempts to dismantle state functions, criminal justice facilities stand as a striking exception. When it comes to building and staffing new prisons, state legislatures abandon all pretense of fiscal restraint, and engage in what one trenchant analyst has fittingly dubbed "carceral keynesianism.”23 The expansion of the "prison-industrial complex” provides jobs for the rural unemployed even while it siphons off the urban "underclass” from America's terminally ill cities. If and when the prison boom proves too costly, a new movement is afoot in this post-welfare-state era: the privatization of punishment,

Contemporary privatized convict labor — usually compensated, at best, with a sub-minimum wage — appeals in particular to the service sector, arguably the most "progressive” sphere of today's economy, and appears suited to the imperatives and rhythms of postindustrial production. "Private sector involvement in prison-based businesses offers specific advantages to companies with specific labor needs,” remarks a 1985 National Institute of Justice report on this burgeoning form of penal labor, without irony. “Some general benefits can accrue to virtually any company that agrees to employ prisoners,” the report continues.

The principal economic benefit is free use of space and utilities. Some personnel cost savings can be realized by employing prison labor, primarily because employer-paid health insurance coverage is not required. Nor, of course, are any other benefits. ... Prison labor is attractive to the employer with seasonal labor needs, who can fine-tune labor costs much more precisely, and with much less risk of losing workers, with a prison labor force than with non-prisoner workers. Prison labor is also attractive to companies with shift demands that are difficult to fill ... and to companies with short-term product manufacturing cycles followed by long idle periods.

Of course many prisoners are “willing” to work under any conditions, when the alternative is the deadening idleness and monotony of prison life.24

Another study of privatization commissioned by the Department of Justice notes the “potential political concern” that prisoners might organize labor unions in order to improve their working conditions. But this concern is quickly dismissed; the study reports that “states are allowed to prohibit collective bargaining and other union activity of prisoners, and federal law prohibits convicted felons from holding union office.” And in the event of a legal objection to this form of labor subordination and exploitation,

these restrictions are likely to withstand constitutional challenge, since the 13th Amendment allows involuntary servitude as a punishment for crime and may thus attach some of the characteristics of slavery to prisoners — including prohibitions on slave organizations.25

In the most barbaric regimes of the twentieth century the modern state nullified free labor by arbitrary and summary means. Simply belonging to a group or class of individuals stigmatized by the state or the ruling class — "natives” in Portuguese Africa or the Congo, Jews in the Reich, Kulaks in Stalinist Russia — limited or extinguished altogether the right to be free from enslavement. Remarkably, this contradiction of modernity — under the rule of law and otherwise — has almost always been in the interest of progress, and not just rhetorically so. The “liquidation” of the Kulaks as a class may have been “progressive” only in the minds of Stalin and his commissars, but their labor in the camps and mines of the Gulag made a significant contribution to the shock industrialization that helped fend off the German attack in the 1940s. As for the Nazis, their absolute negation of moral progress provided a slave labor force for Germany's most highly developed sectors of a modern industrial complex. In fact, it was the Nazi state that most completely adapted forced labor to the mass forms of industrial labor and organization — in chemicals, armaments, automotive, rubber, electronics — that resemble what we today regard as modern production.26

The southern penal system cannot be directly equated with the Gulag (though at least one left-wing social critic in the 1930s thought otherwise) or with Auschwitz (though at least one southern historian has done so).27 Yet these comparisons serve to emphasize the compatibility of forced labor with ideals of progress, both economic and moral, though the latter was usually true only in the minds of its advocates. Nor do I think that southern convict labor, unlike the chattel slavery that preceded it, constituted a full “mode of production,” a set of social relations arranged to extract labor that defined the character of the entire society.28 But it was a significant "hybrid form” of labor particularly appropriate to an underdeveloped region seeking, through rapid economic advancement, to fully enter the capitalist world while preserving a racial caste system.29 More than one social critic has observed that “the way prisons are run and their inmates treated gives a faithful picture of a society, especially of the ideas and methods of those who dominate that society.30 As the most extreme incarnation of southern labor relations, convict labor in the New South — and, indeed, well into the twentieth century — testified to certain fundamental and persistent facts about the postbellum southern social, economic, and racial order. Long after the abolition of slavery, race continued to define one's place in the labor market: blacks' prescribed "place” in southern society was to toil for the benefit of whites, and whites believed African-Americans would only freely give their labor under compulsion. If the actions of the freedpeople themselves demonstrated otherwise, this only encouraged reliance on forced labor. For nearly a century after emancipation, whites tailored the region's system of punishment to fit this model of social relations. Moreover, the penal regime was repeatedly shaped by the prevailing political economy. When wedded to the project of accelerated economic development under adverse conditions, the South's brutal system of forced labor reconciled modernization with the continuation of racial domination. The convict-lease and its successor, the chain gang, serve as potent reminders of historical tendencies that much of the rest of the world has been made well aware of that progress is not necessarily progressive for all peoples, and that the bearers of modernity frequently carry with them its antithesis.


1. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), p. 256.

2. Willemina Kloosterboer, Involuntary Labour Since the Abolition of Slavery: A Survey of Compulsory Labour Throughout the World (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1960), pp. 190-20o; J. Thorsten Sellin, Slavery and the Penal System (New York; Elsevier, 1976); Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer, Punishment and Social Structure (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939), p. 42; and Sidney Mintz, “The Dignity of Honest Toil: A Review Article,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 21 (October 1979), pp. 558-66, on some of the common elements in forced labor.

Much of this analysis is based on a distillation of many works that have influenced my thinking on the subject of forced labor, progress, and modernity. For a complete list, see Alex Lichtenstein, "The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1990), pp. 419-20.

3. Georgia General Assembly, Journal of the House of Representatives, 1909, p. 33. 4. Interesting critiques of southern "modernization” are found in Pete Daniel, Breaking the Land: The Transformation of Cotton, Tobacco, and Rice Cultures since 1880 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985) and Jack Temple Kirby, Rural Worlds Lost: The American South 1920-1960 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987). Daniel in particular is highly critical of the federal role, a view I find reinforced by the USDA's enthusiastic promotion of convict labor on the roads. See Southern Good Roads 5 (February 1912) for several articles on federal aid — in money and expertise — to southern road programs which relied on convict labor.

The civil engineers who worked for the USDA Office of Public Roads were not just bureaucrats; they got their hands dirty. One of the most popular methods of Federal aid to counties was actually to send an OPR engineer “to assist ... in organizing and working [the] convict road gang for the improvement of roads” (Office of Public Roads to J.D. Coleman Chairman, County Commissioners, Tatnall County, Ga., 10 May 1911); also R.H. Sheffield to Logan W. Page, 25 November 1909; and E.L. Bardwell to Page, 24 October 1911, all in Box 49, File 135, General Correspondence, 1893-1916, "Georgia Roads,” OPR Records, RG30, NA-WNRC. This was the Progressive application of expertise with a vengeance.

5. For a good articulation of this point, see James Oakes, Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South (New York: Knopf, 1990), pp. 40-79, esp. p. 52.

6. Tom Brass, “Review Essay: Slavery Now: Unfree Labour and Modern Capitalism,” Slavery and Abolition 9 (September 1988), pp. 183-97.

7. The concept of “underdevelopment” here does not contradict the notion of economic progress; regions and nations can sustain rapid economic growth and remain underdeveloped, particularly in their social and labor relations — indeed this is often one of the reasons for the persistence of unfree labor relations. In other words, an underdeveloped society is quite distinct from an undeveloped one; see Barbara J. Fields, “The Nineteenth-Century American South: History and Theory,” Plantation Society in the Americas 2 (April 1983), pp. 7-27.

8. George Washington Cable, The Silent South, together with the Freedman's Case in Equity and the Convict Lease System (1883; reprint, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1907); Rebecca Latimer Felton, My Memoirs of Georgia Politics (Atlanta, Ga.;, 1911), pp. 438-9, 463-6; Rebecca Felton, “The Convict System of Georgia,” The Forum 2 (January 1887), pp. 484-go; Frank Tannenbaum, Darker Phases of the South (London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1924), pp. 74-115.

9. John Spivak, Georgia Nigger (New York: Brewer, Warren and Putnam, 1932); Walter Wilson, Forced Labor in the United States (New York: International Publishers, 1933)

10. W.E.B. Du Bois, ed., Some Notes on Negro Crime, Particularly in Georgia, Ninth Conference for the Study of Negro Problems (Atlanta, Ga.; Atlanta University Press, 1904), pp. 5-6.

11. Prison Commission, Report, 1929-30, p. 22; US Department of Justice, Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States, 1850-1984 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1986), p. 30; US Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States, Vol. 2, Population (Washington, DC: GPO, 1910), p. 372.

12. Jesse Crawford, “Cheating the Georgia Chain Gang.” The Crisis 45 (June 1938), pp. 68-9, 178.

13. USDA, Yearbook, 1918 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1918), pp. 67-8; H.M. Berry to Earle Godbey, 1 January 1921, Folder 17, Box 1, Harriet Morehead Berry Papers, SHC; W.R. Neel to A.E. Loder, 24 January 1922, Box 2187, File 481, General Correspondence, Georgia, 1912-5o, OPR Records, RG30, NA-WNRC.

14. Report by Chairman of the North Carolina State Highway Commission, n.d. [c. 1932], Folder 56, Box 2, Berry Papers, SHC; M.C. Tarver to Thomas McDonald director, US Bureau of Public Roads), 21 August 1931, and McDonald to Tarver, 25 August 1931, Box 2183, File 481, General Correspondence, Georgia, 1933-31, OPR Records, NA-WNRC.

15. For the evolution of this decision in Georgia (cemented in 1916, with the Federal Road Aid Act), see C.M. Strahan to A.H. Ulm, 2 December 1912, 31 December 1912, Subject Files, “Roads,” Box 200; A.S. Burleson postmaster general to Gov. Joseph M. Brown, 18 March 1913, and Brown to Burleson, 31 March 1913, “Roads' File, Box 20o; Gov. J. M. Slaton to Congressman Frank Park (GA), II February 1914, and Park to Slaton, 13 February 1914, Box 209, all in Governor's Correspondence, GDAH; R.M. Jones to TE. Patterson, 21 November 1916, Box 288, File 48, General Correspondence, Georgia, 1912–5o, OPR Records, RG3o, NA-WNRC; Atlanta Constitution, 24 September, 3 October, 23 October 1916.

16. Thomas McDonald to Senator Walter F. George, 25 November 1930, Box 2184, File 48, General Correspondence, Georgia, 1912–50, OPR Records, RG30, NA-WNRC; E.L. Rainey Chairman, Georgia Prison Commission to Sen. Walter F. George, 6 November 1930, enclosed with above letter; Georgia State Highway Department, Minutes, Box 2, 25 April 1933, 2 May 1933; Minutes, Box 4, 28 September 1938, 30 November 1938, Department of Transportation Records, GDAH.

17. Blake McKelvey, “A Half Century of Southern Penal Exploitation,” Social Forces 13 (October 1934), pp. 121-2. McKelvey contended that, despite its obvious cruelties, at least the southern penal system kept convicts at work; “in the long run southern convicts have enjoyed a measurable advantage over the thousands of idle prisoners in the North,” he claimed with considerable exaggeration. At the same time, he noted that the National Penal Information Society “ranked the penal system of Georgia at the bottom of the list, even in the South” (p. 118).

18. Elliot Currie, Confronting Crime: An American Challenge (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), pp. 28-9; George M. Camp and Camille G. Camp, The Corrections Yearbook (South Salem, N.Y.: Criminal Justice Institute, 1987), p. 4; Marc Miller, “The Numbers Game: A Southern Exposure Special Report,” Southern Exposure 6 (Winter 1978), pp. 25-9; US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sourcebook of Criminal justice Statistics, 1986 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1987), pp. 405-6; Scott Christianson, Black incarceration Rate in the United States - A Nationwide Problem, National Institute of Justice (Washington, DC: National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 198o), esp. pp. 19, 23; Michael Tonry, Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 49-80.

19, H. Bruce Franklin, Prison Literature in America: The Victim as Criminal and Artist, 2nd edin (Westport, Conn.; Lawrence Hill & Co., 1982), pp. xiv-xv, xxiii-xxx, 3-30, 73-123, 233-76; Lawrence Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 246-70; see for examples, George Jackson, Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), p. 9; Alex Haley and Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Grove Press, 1964), the classic of the genre. Prison work songs also offer powerful testament to this, e.g. Bruce Jackson, comp., Wake Up Dead Man: Afro-American Work Songs From Texas Prisons (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972).

20. On Parchman, and its enduring significance, see David Oshinsky, “Prison Plantation: Parchman Prison and Forced Labor,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Historical Association, 8-11 November 1989, copy in author's possession; on Angola, John Vodicka, “Prison Plantation: The Story of Angola,” Southern Exposure 6 (Winter 1978), pp. 32-8; Wilbert Rideau and Ron Wikberg, Life Sentences: Rage and Survival Behind Bars (New York: Times Books, 1992).

21. Samuel L. Myers, “Employment Opportunities and Crime,” Technical Report for the National Institute of Justice (Washington, DC: National Criminal Justice Reference Service, 1980), p. 16; Gerald D. Jaynes, Branches Without Roots: Genesis of the Black Working Class in the American South, 1862-1882 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 261-79.

22. Franklin, Prison Literature in America, pp. 122-3, for a succinct presentation of this periodization; Neil McMillen, Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), ch. 6, offers a striking discussion of southern "criminal justice," which was definitely not an oxymoron. For a good summary of approaches to the question of joblessness, race, and the "underclass,” see Michael B. Katz, The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989), pp. 195-215.

Obviously, here I treat the question of punishment as distinct from, and relatively unconnected with, crime. This approach falls within a particular tradition of Marxist criminological thought, pioneered by Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer in Punishment and Social Structure (New York: Columbia University Press, 1939), which regards penal developments as more responsive to changes in political economy than to criminal behavior per se. See Dario Melossi, “Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer: Punishment and Social Structure,” Crime and Social Justice 9 (Spring-Summer 1978), pp. 73-85 for the background and influence of this work on modern criminology; Christopher Adamson, “Toward a Marxian Penology,” Social Problems 3 (April 1984), pp. 435-58, for a theoretical application to the nineteenth-century United States; Ivan Jankovich, “Labor Market and Imprisonment,” Crime and Social Justice 8 (Fall-Winter), pp. 17-31, for an analysis of twentieth-century developments; and Ivan Jankovich, “Prison and Postindustrial Society” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1976), for a suggestive consideration of the role of incarceration in the postindustrial political economy. When crime itself is considered in these models it is understood primarily as the threat posed to stability and capital accumulation by the reserve army of labor, with, in the United States, obvious implications for race relations.

23. Mike Davis, “A Prison-industrial Complex: Hell Factories in the Field,” The Nation, 20 February 1995, pp. 229-34.

24. Criminal Justice Associates, Private Sector Involvement in Prison-Based Business: A National Assessment, National Institute of Justice Research Report (Washington, DC: GPO, 1985), pp. 6-7.

25. Joan Mullen, Kent J. Chabotar, and Deborah M. Carrow, The Privatization of Corrections, National Institute of Justice, Issues and Practices (Washington, DC: GPO, 1985), p. 24; on privatization, see also George E. Sexton, Franklin C. Farrow, and Barbara.J. Auerbach, “The Private Sector and Prison Industries,” National Institute of Justice, Research in Brief, August 1985, and articles in "Corrections and Privatization: An Overview, The Prison Journal 65 (Autumn-Winter 1985); Scott Christianson, “Prison Labor and Unionization - Legal Developments," Criminal Law Bulletin 14 (May-June 1978), pp. 243-7, notes the absence of legal rights and benefits in the prison workplace; on the current constitutional legal ramifications of privatized prisons and prison labor, see Ira P. Robbins, The Legal Dimensions of Private Incarceration (Washington, DC: American Bar Association, 1988), pp. 120-33; for an unapologetic advocacy of private prisons, see Charles Logan, Private Prisons: Cons and Pros (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

26. On industrial forced labor in Nazi Germany, see Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of European Jewery, 3 vols (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1985), Vol. 1, pp. 24959; Vol. 3, pp. 97-36; Benjamin B. Ferencz, Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Compensation (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), esp. pp. 17-3o; Peter Hayes, Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 332-76; on Stalinist forced labor, see Tony Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia (London: Pluto Press, 1974), p. 33; and S. Swianiewicz, Forced Labour and Economic Development: An Enquiry into the Experience of Soviet Industrialization (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), a provocative and fascinating examination of the Soviet Gulag which attributes forced labor in the Soviet Union to changes in the Soviet political economy and problems with labor recruitment during the attempt (in the 1930s) to industrialize rapidly an overwhelmingly agrarian country (see pp. 2-4, 18–19),

27. Wilson, Forced Labor in the United States, compares southern chain gangs unfavorably to Soviet labor camps; Fletcher Green, "Some Aspects of the Convict Lease System in the Southern States,” in Fletcher Green, ed., Essays in Southern History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1949), p. 122, for a direct comparison with Nazism.

28. This is the view associated with the work of Eugene D. Genovese; see his Roll, Jordan, Roll. The World the Slaves Made (New York: Random House, 1974), and "Marxian Interpretations of the Slave South,” in In Red and Black: Marxian Explorations in Southern and Afro-American History (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984).

29. Fields, “The Nineteenth-Century American South,' pp. 24-5. Fields confines this analysis to the agricultural sector, however, thus missing the significance of convict labor, which perfectly illustrates her point.

30. Milovan Djilas, Of Prisons and Ideas (San Diego, Calif: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), p. 139.



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