Because the truth hurts, Alabama prison bans Pulitzer-winnning book

I ran across this story on Douglas Blackmon’s facebook page, and it deserves repeating:

Prison officials in Alabama will not allow an inmate to read the Pulitzer-prize winning book that Blackmon wrote about the South’s infamous convict-lease system. They claim Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II  is “too incendiary.”

The inmate, a white man serving a life sentence, has sued over the state’s refusal to let him read the book. From the New York Times:

(Attorney Bryan) Stevenson, who is also the director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, said he considered the lawsuit to be less about the rights of people in prison but primarily about the country’s refusal to own up to its racial history

Stanley Washington, a former inmate who is now a caseworker for the equal justice group, said that at the Alabama prison where he was serving a sentence in 2001, inmates were forbidden to watch the mini-series “Roots.”

“They didn’t give a reason,” Mr. Washington said. “We figured they thought it would rile up the blacks against the whites.”

To read the entire article, click here.

I’ve read Blackmon’s book, and participated in a panel discussion about it with Blackmon that was sponsored by the Atlanta Journal-Constiution.  It is a painful read, but essential for those who want to understand the South. (By the way, in the movie version of Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara uses convict labor to rebuild her fortunes–but the prisoners are white! Which is exactly NOT the way the system worked.)

For those of you that don’t know about the convict-lease, it was a method of forcing black men after the civil war to work on plantations, railroads, and in coal mines. Brutal, inhumane conditions were the norm. How bad was it? Here’s the opening passage on the subject from The Way It Was in the South: The Black Experience in Georgia, by Donald L. Grant:

Being a peon was not the worst thing that could happen to a black in Georgia.  After the Civil War and until it was abolished in 1908, the convict-lease system became, next to lynching, the most brutal manifestation of black oppression in the South.  The forced labor of its mostly black victims mainly benefited a small ruling elite. Leased convicts were prisoners who were given, rented, or leased by a governmental unit to individuals and companies that forced them to work, usually under atrocious conditions. Lessees wanted to maximize profits and were not held accountable for the prisoners’ condition.  As a result, the brutalization of prisoners was unparalleled. Driven to work by the lash– often when sick, underfed, and provided with miserable quarters — many died while serving their sentences.  Southern historian Fletcher M. Green called it “a system that left a trail of dishonor and death that could find a parallel only in the persecutions of the Middle Ages or in the prison camps of Nazi Germany.”

Fergit, Hell.


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