Free Essay. How the Convict Labor System Was Worse Than Slavery

Published: 2023-01-29
Free Essay. How the Convict Labor System Was Worse Than Slavery
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Discrimination Human resources American Civil War Slavery Human rights Books
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1172 words
10 min read

Douglas Blackmon's book In Slavery By Another explores the treatment of the African American laborers in the post-Civil War America. The author, in this perspective, paints a picture of 'legalized enslavement' of the blacks even after the government and the Confederate States signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The implementation of the convict lease system despite the Emancipation Proclamation outlawing Slavery suggests the degree of racism. Under this system, the black Americans could provide involuntary labor to the white farmers and could also be charged for petty and insignificant crimes. This situation suggests that the convict system was worse than Slavery. It deprived the African Americans of their fundamental liberties by exposing them to physical torture, and inhuman working conditions. However, the system was also better than Slavery in some ways since it advocated for reasonable care of the convicts. Also, it provided opportunities for blacks to become skilled pattern makers, miners, and masons.

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The conditions that underpinned the convict labor system deprived African Americans of their rights and fundamental freedom. The stringent laws underlying this system placed the black population in positions that are worse than Slavery. Vagrancy laws, for instance, prohibited free movement among the people of color who were supposed to be working under the convict lease system (Blackmon 1). The blacks roaming at large were required to prove to the authorities that they were enrolled in the lease system. Also, any man and woman of color convicted of vagrancy could be leased out to large corporations or sentenced for a term of hard labor. In Alabama, for instance, the Sheriff of Shelby Country arrested Green Cottenham for roaming (Blackmon 1). While Cottenham had committed no crime, the authorities charged him for vagrancy. Cottenham's offense was his inability to prove that he was employed. The situation, therefore, is an indication that the effects underlying the convict labor system were worse than of Slavery.

African American convicts worked under inhumane conditions in large enterprises. The convict system, therefore, encouraged the emergence of such corporations, which took advantage of cheap involuntary labor from the blacks. However, the working conditions were worse than that of any slave, considering that it led to dozens of deaths. Blackmon noted that many people in queries had died of tuberculosis, and pneumonia one month before Cottenham arrived at prison mines (2). Also, more than six African convicts had been killed within the first one month of Cottenham arrival to the prison mines. Besides exposure to deadly diseases, the working conditions also placed the laborers at risk of homicide and accidents. Blackmon noted that more than sixty people were forced into deep slopes a few months after Cottenham was admitted at the prison mines. Those who died while in the minefields were thrown to deep graves while others were incinerated in ovens that corporations used to blast coal. This scenario provides evidence that the mistreatment of the Black convicts placed them at worse conditions than slaves.

The Southern Whites who benefited from the convict labor system engineered laws that would intimidate African Americans from political participation (Blackmon 5). The authorities enforced such regulations by sending the dissidents to prison mines and labor camps. In this case, the underground activities perpetrated under the convict labor system promoted the brutal and unjust treatment of the blacks. The existence of this system encouraged unjustified arrest of the African American people as one way of getting convicts for lease. According to the author, blacks could not handle emotional complexities, considering the degree of intimidation and brutal abuse. In July 1903, for instance, James Robinson, a fourteen-year-old boy, was abducted and sold to the convict labor system (Blackmon 252). However, the police did not take any interest. This scenario shows that the convict lease system promoted the enslavement of under-aged children and thus supports an argument that it was worse than Slavery.

The convicts participated in primitive industrial activities that supported the efforts of the Confederate armies. The blacks serving under the lease system would be transported to mine saltpeter, a critical ingredient that the Confederate soldiers used to prepare gun powder. Also, they would work in Alabama military enterprises to support weaponry production and hearth in the naval foundry. Alabama Iron, according to Blackmon, was ideal for fortifying battleships with steel plates (20). This act was worse than Slavery, considering that slave owners used the black convicts to support Confederate wars where most of them were killed. Historically, slaves are cheap sources of labor for their masters. The use of convicts to work in military enterprises in support of the war, therefore, is worse than Slavery.

The managers of the convict labor system advocated for harsh treatment of blacks to attain the highest level of productivity. Their interest was to see every African Americans bending, vast tracks of land cultivated, and crops are growing (Blackmon 45). However, business managers did not care whether the blacks were cultivating wet or dry land, and whether working hot or cold. Their interest was the profitability of the business. Slave owners, however, acknowledged that laborers could also die since many of them had already passed away in their plantations.

While the expose of the convict lease system are inhumane, it is also better than Slavery. The black laborers who were working on various industrial locations had opportunities to enhance their skills. In this case, thousands of black convicts became skilled pattern makers, miners, masons, and furnace workers (Blackmon 46). These people performed an overwhelming majority of work as fillers in limestone mines. This aspect is an indication that they had opportunities to develop their skills. Unlike Slavery that encompasses the unlawful recruitment of child soldiers, the convict labor system leased out its laborers to business enterprises. However, African American slaves worked in military enterprises but not as soldiers. Also, large-scale owners of black laborers directed their business managers to be lenient to slaves and provide them reasonable care (Blackmon 45). While slaveholders advocated for fair treatment of black convicts, managers remained harsh to their laborers as a strategy to maintain productivity. This scenario suggests that the convict lease system, to some extent, was better than Slavery.

Conclusively, the convict lease system adversely impacted on the well-being of African American people. However, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation did not end Slavery. The economics underlying the convict labor system encouraged the enslavement of blacks. In this case, it provided a platform where slave owners and business managers could trade on involuntary laborers. However, Vagrancy laws, among other regulations, deprived African American laborers of their fundamental rights. Black laborers were mistreated, and forced to work in poor conditions and thus shows that this system had severe consequence than Slavery. However, slaver owners advocated for fair treatment of African American convicts, and this reason indicates that the convict lease system was not as severe as Slavery. The system also trained black laborers as masons, pattern makers, and furnace workers, which shows that it was better than bondage.

Work Cited

Blackmon, Douglas A. Slavery by another name: The re-enslavement of black Americans from

the Civil War to World War II. Anchor, 2009.

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