Chained in Silence

Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South

Talitha L. LeFlouria
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Chained in Silence
    Book Description:

    In 1868, the state of Georgia began to make its rapidly growing population of prisoners available for hire. The resulting convict leasing system ensnared not only men but also African American women, who were forced to labor in camps and factories to make profits for private investors. In this vivid work of history, Talitha L. LeFlouria draws from a rich array of primary sources to piece together the stories of these women, recounting what they endured in Georgia's prison system and what their labor accomplished. LeFlouria argues that African American women's presence within the convict lease and chain-gang systems of Georgia helped to modernize the South by creating a new and dynamic set of skills for black women. At the same time, female inmates struggled to resist physical and sexual exploitation and to preserve their human dignity within a hostile climate of terror. This revealing history redefines the social context of black women's lives and labor in the New South and allows their stories to be told for the first time.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-2328-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xv)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  5. Prologue Between Sound and Silence
    (pp. 1-3)

    This book is an effort to give voice to a group that has been too long silent. There was no greater inspiration for this effort than memories of my great-grandmother, a woman of quiet dissemblances, meaningful pauses, and reticence when it came to sharing “too much” aboutthe past. Born in 1904 in Troup County, Georgia, to a family of sharecroppers, Grandma Leola had a mental strongbox filled with memories. Though occasionally she would unfetter her recollections and reveal the details of her life, there was much about her youth that never left that sacred container.

    As a young girl,...

  6. Introduction “Only Woman Blacksmith in America Is a Convict”
    (pp. 4-20)

    In 1896, Mattie Crawford was convicted of murder by a Meriwether County judge and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Georgia state penitentiary. She killed her stepfather, who, reportedly, abused her. One day, “when he came into the house she took up a chair and brained him with it.”¹ Shortly after her sentencing, Crawford was transported fifty-five miles north to Atlanta to work in the remote environs of the Chattahoochee brickyard. The brick factory was her first destination in an elaborate sequence of forced migrations across the Georgia countryside. “After being there a while, her great strength and activity caused...

  7. CHAPTER ONE The Gendered Anatomy of “Negro Crime”
    (pp. 21-60)

    At the Rising Fawn prison mine, tucked away in the foothills of Dade County, Carrie Massie, “a sixteen-year-old Negro girl,” built her home in the depths of despair. The young woman’s ordeal began in 1882, when she was convicted of murdering William Evans, a well-known owner of a general store in the town of Summerfield near Macon, Georgia. On the night of the killing, Bill Carstarphen, a black man, heard groans emanating from the shop. He roused the neighborhood and convened a small posse to guard the store. When members of the crowd forced the door open, “a ghastly sight...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Black Women and Convict Leasing in the “Empire State” of the New South
    (pp. 61-102)

    On the afternoon of October 24, 1884, Ella Gamble sat stock-still in the Hamilton County courthouse while an all-white male jury deliberated her fate. The twenty-two-year-old pregnant newlywed and domestic worker had been nearing the end of her first trimester when she was charged with the murder of Pink Buchanan, her employer. Gamble was accused of poisoning the man by putting “Rough on Rats”—a popular form of rodenticide—in a tub of meal consumed by the deceased. Although the evidence against her was “circumstantial,” it took the panel merely two hours to return a verdict of “guilty with recommendation...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The Hand That Rocks the Cradle Cuts Cordwood Prison Camps for Women
    (pp. 103-139)

    By the time Carrie Massie arrived at the Camp Heardmont prison farm in 1892, she was no longer a young “Negro girl,” but a full-grown woman who had given birth to “four children and, in each instance, the child bore unmistakable signs that the father was white.”¹ After ten years confinement in Georgia’s private lease camps, Massie was reduced to a “plaything of beastly passion.” Even while floating in a sea of handsome women at Camp Heardmont, she still stood out as a preferred target. As reported by reformer Selena Sloan Butler, the bondwoman’s captors “became so infatuated with her,...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Sustaining the “Weak and Feeble” Women Workers and the Georgia State Prison Farm
    (pp. 140-171)

    In the summer of 1911, A. H. Ulm boarded a Friday morning train out of Atlanta, bound for the Georgia state prison farm. A contributing author for theAtlanta Constitutionnewspaper and a noble son of the South, the essayist traveled to the farmstead seeking fodder for a news story that would combine the literary fluency of folklorist Joel Chandler Harris and the paternalistic temper of Georgia-born historian Ulrich Bonnell Phillips. In Ulm’s words, it was time to “convey a few impressions gained upon a visit to those penal-philanthropic institutions located on state-owned land in Baldwin County” that “are not...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Broken, Ruined, and Wrecked Women on the Chain Gang
    (pp. 172-188)

    On September 19, 1908, the General Assembly of Georgia passed a law abolishing the lease of convicts to private parties and decentralizing the state’s chain gang system. The act required that “all male felony convicts, except such as are now required by law to be kept at the State Farm, may, after March 31st, 1909, be employed by the authority of the several counties and municipalities upon the public roads, bridges, or other public works.”¹ Concerning female prisoners, all felons were to be forwarded to the state farm. Misdemeanant offenders, on the other hand, were held at the mercy of...

  12. Epilogue The Sound of Broken Silence
    (pp. 189-192)

    This book has been my attempt to give voice to a group of women who had theirs taken away. But the process of creating voice was much more difficult than I expected. In order to tell these women’s stories, I had to rely on other’s interpretations of events, reading between illegible lines only to still be confronted with what I began to think of as a broken silence. At times I questioned whether the work was even possible. No matter how deep my research, certain aspects of these women’s lives would remain forever obscured. But I had to honor the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 193-218)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-238)
  15. Index
    (pp. 239-258)