Monday, February 18, 2008

WTS Blog Part II

Part II of Worse Than Slavery traces the history of Parchman Prison Farm from it’s creation in 1905 as a reform of the brutal system of convict leasing to his present incarnation as a modern prison with an emphasis on rehabilitation. Oshinsky maintains his compelling narrative style and deep scholarship in the second half of the book and I am intrigued by the following three questions or issues he raises. Please choose one for your response of at least 250 words and feel free to speak to comments offered by one of your classmates as well.
To what degree was Parchman, a so-called “farm with slaves,” an improvement over convict leasing? I guess what I am really asking is to which system—convict leasing or Parchman—does the title, Worse Than Slavery, apply? Convict leasing was horrifically violent and inhumane while Oshinsky describes Parchman thusly: “In design, it resembled an antebellum plantation with convicts in place of slaves” (139). How might a convict who had the misfortune to serve in both of these systems respond to this question?
Parchman was conceived, like convict leasing before it, as an extension of southern racial attitudes towards criminal justice. In other words all of the white beliefs about black inferiority, inclinations towards violence, and disinclinations towards work were woven into the institutional fabric of Parchman as Oshinsky writes: “White Southerners liked to believe that blacks did not much mind going to prison—that there was no shame to it, no loss of status, no fear of what lay ahead” (136). Therefore Oshinsky cleverly relies upon oral history, most notably songs, to understand the Parchman experience through the black inmates. Most of the songs he cites were recorded in 1939 by Alan Lomax, a folklorist working for the Library of Congress, who traveled throughout the country recording folk music. Follow this link to read Lomax’s field notes from his Parchman visit:
And check out this link for actual recordings of nearly twenty of these songs:
Read Lomax’s field notes and listen to five or six songs. What do these sources tell us about Parchman that might not be included in official prison records? Can any comparisons be made between these songs and Hip Hop?
Finally, I am curious about the quote that ends the book. Oshinsky interviews Horace Carter, a nearly fifty year inmate at Parchman. Carter says: “I’m not looking to go backwards. I know the troubles at old Parchman better than any man alive. I’m seventy-three years old. But I look around today and see a place that makes me sad” (255). If Carter doesn’t want “to go backwards,” why is he sad about the current state of Parchman? What did the “old Parchman” have that the new Parchman lacks?
So respond to one—or combine two as some of you did previously and successfully—of my questions. Remember to support your assertions with direct quotes from the text and thoughtful analysis. I look forward to reading your posts.


Gene said...

The title of Oshinsky’s narrative Worse Than Slavery seems to be more of an accurate description of the convict leasing system then to the Parchman Farm state penitentiary. When comparing the institution of slavery to both the convict leasing system and Parchman Farm, many similarities and differences can be made between the two. Both systems purely existed for the exploitation of cheap labor rather than criminal rehabilitation. However, the people who benefitted the most as a result of the labor differed. Convict leasing was generally headed by privately owned organizations run by the rich, planter class. These convict leasing organizations profited on the giving or “leasing” of laborers towards various local and state governments in the South. The efficiency of the laborer and the overall profits gained directly benefitted the planter class, which were the leaders of the plethora of convict leasing organizations in the South. This exploitation of cheap, “black” labor at the hands of the Planter class directly correlates to the labor system established by these same Planters in the ante bellum South. However unlike in slavery, these convict leasers were expendable. The death of a worker due to illness, and fatigue did not result in a loss of profit. Instead of having to purchase new black laborers, laborers were given free of charge to the Planters. And the rate of available workers was constantly rising due to the infamous Jim Crow laws. However, these same planters as slaver owners would not have had the seemingly inexhausted resource of labor. A direct result of the banning of the slave trade in the early nineteenth century increased the overall value of the slave and decreased the opportunity to obtain new slaves, fresh from Africa. Thus marriage and intermingling of the slaves was encouraged. The value of the slave is much higher than the value of the laborer in the convict lease system. Sanitation, food and other humanitarian concerns for the worker were abandoned in the convict leasing system and replaced with concerns involving overall profit, not the health of the worker. Therefore it can be said that convict leasing was in fact “Worse Than Slavery.”
Unlike convict leasing or slavery, Parchman Farm was an institution established by the state and for the state. Headed by anti-Planter governor William Vardaman, convict leasing was becoming primarily dissolved in the South and was being replaced by labor supplied by state penitentiaries, such as Parchman Farm. The difference between leasing and Parchman lies in the people who benefit from the profits earned by the convict labor. Profits were obtained for the state and involving the state. Many of labor projects involved the improvement of roads, buildings, etc. for the benefit of the community. However, the majority of the labor fell into the cotton fields. Where profits directly correlated to the state. In convict leasing, these profits would go towards the Planter class. The conditions of both Parchman and the convict leasing system were similar in that they were both horrible. However, because of the involvement with the Planter class in convict leasing, a direct correlation forms between leasing and slavery. And the analysis of this correlation yields to the idea that convict leasing was in fact “Worse Than Slavery”.

benjamin said...

Although there are certain aspects of both convict leasing and the Parchman Farm system (including Jim Crow Justice in general) that could easily be classified as “worse than slavery,” overall, the brutal and dehumanizing aspects of convict leasing far exceed those of Parchman in regards to the degree of cruelty implemented within each. In this respect, I agree completely with Gene. I especially like his well-constructed comparison between the conditions of ante bellum slavery within the South and the status of workers on Parchman Farm, both of which ultimately had the common purpose of generating profits (for the wealthy Planter class and the state of Mississippi, respectfully) by means of the exploitation of human labor. In fact, in the process of establishing Parchman Farm as a legitimate penal institution, Governor “White Chief” Vardaman employed within his reasoning racially prejudiced logic and rhetoric similar to that used to validate the institution of slavery decades before: “You cannot created something when there is nothing to build on…but they can be well trained, and that is the best that can be done with the genuine negro” (qtd. on pg. 110). Ultimately, the sense of justice and respect for human life was at least somewhat greater at Parchman than under the convict leasing system, in which black laborers were easily replaced and, thus, expendable. On Parchman Farm, conditions did have the potential to be moderately decent (or, in some instances, worse), depending on the policies of the sergeants: “In one camp, the food might be fresh and plentiful; in another, it was rancid and scarce. In one camp, the inmates would be locked up after work; in another, they could fish or garden or lounge outside” (140). Despite the obvious influence made upon Parchman disciplinary practices by the slavery and convict leasing eras (e.g. malicious and horrific beatings from “Black Annie”), conditions for inmates (including the disadvantaged African-Americans included within this group) in general began a positive shift towards improvement during this time. This would also remain true in both the near and distant future, as such punitive reforms as conjugal visitation (began from the establishment of the prison, extended to whites in the 1930’s), release (for good behavior, for being falsely imprisoned, etc.), and, eventually, parole continued to improve the prospects and conditions of Parchman inmates.

Ultimately, despite its original purpose as a cotton-raising, profit-producing establishment, Parchment, following the Gates decision, was forced to modernize into a more acceptable (by U.S. standards at the time) penal institution. The reforms entailed by this modernization and outlined by Judge Keady included “the construction of better housing and a modern hospital, facilities for sewage treatment and clean drinking water , and a system for isolating hardened criminals from nonviolent inmates and first offenders” (248). Although these changes yielded many benefits for the average inmate, they also altered or destroyed many of the aspects that characterized the original identity of Parchman Farm. For one thing, the authority and spirit of Parchman as self-sufficient and economically profitable institution was dismantled through the “decentralized reform” called for by Judge Keady and the Gates decision. Second, there was a direct correlation between the termination of convict labor and the rise of violence among the inmates. Third, the “spirit” of old Parchman was also compromised by the increasing number of inmates and by the replacement of “trusties” with professional guards. Although some aspects of Parchman remained the same (e.g. The 70% black to 30% white inmate ratio), the changes implemented within Parchman caused some to long for the old system, as shown by Horace Carter, a former inmate who missed the rhythm “that kept us tired and kept us together and made me feel better inside” (255).

allent said...

Throughout the second part of Worse than Slavery we see a transformation from the typical convict leasing program as seen immediately after the Civil War, to a prison camp environment where convicts are imprisoned, and work the land simultaneously. While imprisoned at these work camps inmates would be forced to tend to the land, there by allowing the prison to pay for itself from the goods that the inmates produce. Along with the strenuous work that these inmates had to endure, violence was horrible at Parchman and other camps in the south. Instead of hired government guards as was present at most prisons, “Trustees” were put in place to hold up guns to the workers to make sure they worked at one hundred percent efficiency. Due to the trustees, inmates were killed by the thousands in these work camps. But we see in the epilogue that although Parchman was horrible, and terrible, there were some qualities that the inmates favored over its reformed version. This is conveyed in the epilogue by a fifty year inmate Horace Carter after the camp is transformed into a true, conventional prison, “I’m not looking to go backwards; I know the troubles at old Parchman better than any man alive. I’m seventy-three years old. But I look around today and see a place that makes me sad (255).” This shows how however violent, and terrible Parchman may have been, it still had virtues that the inmates wished were carried over from the old Parchman to the new Parchman. These virtues were mainly involved with the absence of work in the new Parchman. At old Parchman the inmates felt like they were contributing to society. At the old Parchman they were outside tending crops with other inmates allowing them to socialize and made them feel better about being an inmate. “What is missing today, said Horace Carter, a prisoner for almost fifty years, is the feeling that work counted for something, that farm had a rhythm, awful bad as it was in most camps that kept us tired and kept us together and made me feel better inside (255).”
When the new Parchman was created, inmates would sit in a cell with almost a hundred men all day leaving for meals, classes, special problems, legal visits, or work details. Other wise they would sit in a crowded, hot, malodorous cell blocks all day. These circumstances increased violence between the inmates. “Much of there day is spent in the “cage,” sleeping, watching television, killing time. It is here where the trouble occurs. You don’t sit on another man’s bunk unless he says okay; don’t even walk up the aisle of his bed. You’re liable to get stabbed or get your brains knocked out (254).” With the new Parchman system put in place inmates felt as if they were meaningless, and didn’t contribute to society.

John said...

Closing the book, Oshinsky interviews Horace Carter, a long-term prisoner. Carter says “I’m not looking to go backwards. I know the troubles at old Parchman better than any man alive…I look around today and see a place that makes me sad.” (255). Carter, when working at Parchman, had a feeling inside “that work counted for something…that kept us together and made me feel better inside.” (255).
Oshinsky previously explains the state of “current” Parchman, a “maximum security” penitentiary facility. Many changes took place during the reform of Parchman. Some of which included the closing of some camps, “establishing a prison law library,” and giving more space to the inhabitants (249). However, with these changes came worse consequences. The convicts encountered anger, resentment, and maximum security. The changes at Parchman brought with it gang violence and chaos. Carter also sees the attitudes of the inmates have changed. The trust once possessed by many workers has now turned to hostility. This is explained by the lack of “roots” and “discipline” (254). This all lead to Parchman becoming “Mississippi’s only major state prison…one of the largest penal institutions in the United States” (252). The work methods have also changed: former cotton picking and caretaking has been replaced with large-scale farming. Carter sees these new violent upheavals, changes to the work type, and new “technology” and reminisces on his days there.
While Horace Carter obviously was not content with the past, he believes the future of Parchman looks bleak. Carter favored the trust the inmates had towards each other, the work methods, and the old methods of security. Maximum security, worker hostility, new “technology,” and new work methods all lead him to believe that Parchman is definitely not what is used to be.

Russ said...

David Oshinsky’s novel Worse than Slavery is ended with a quote from an almost fifty year veteran of Parchman Prison stating: “I’m not looking to go backwards. I know the troubles at old Parchman better than any man alive. I’m seventy-three years old. But I look around today and see a place that makes me sad.”(255) The prisoner’s words imply that some conditions within the now reformed are inferior to its ancestor which existed on the farm. A major difference between the old and new prisons was the work which the inmates were allowed to perform such as growing crops, raising livestock, training dogs, working the sawmill, brickyard, slaughter house, or as a servant in a staffer’s house. The performance of these various tasks allowed to become “a self- sufficient operation”(139) which gave the place more the feel of a communal living facility rather than a prison. This is evident in Horace Carter’s statement: “…the feeling that the work counted for something, that the fram had a rhythm to it...”(255) Another enormous difference between old Parchman and new was the use of time. The reformed prison had extremely strict and restrictive allotments for time in which prisoners spent certain time in cells and in the various exercise yards. On the old Parchman prisoners had the choice of how to spend their time when not working in the fields. One prisoner with a kind sergeant recalled: “…they [the prisoners] could fish or garden or lounge outside...”(140) The final major difference between the two systems was inmate relations. In the reformed prison environment there was a high degree of inmate on inmate violence. One guard wrote: “…that builds black and white gangs that stalk each other, do horrible shit to each other, and hold together with constant reminders of the blood the flows.”(250) In the old Parchman inmate relations were superior, although trustees brutalized the “gunmen”, there was much less inter convict hostility. The new Parchamn was a significant improvement over its ancestor but it still could learn some things from its past.

tiffany said...

The title of Oshinsky’s novel, “Worse Than Slavery” obviously pertains to the convict lease system AND the Parchman farm. The entitre whole Part 1 of the book focuses on the convict lease system while Part 2 focuses on the Parchman farm. One could argue that Part 1 was mainly an introduction to the Parchman farm, however, and that Oshinsky intended for the title to be associated with the Parchman farm versus the convict lease system. While both systems were horrific, Oshinsky puts the convict lease system in a much worse light than the Parchman farm in general. Whether this was intentional or not seems unimportant when discussing the material within the novel based on its emotional weight on the reader. There are some similarities and differences between the two, however. Mainly, the treatment in both systems was hellish and the prisoners were used for cheap labor. Convict leasing was in the hands of wealthy white planters, and the Parchman farm state penitentiary was a prison, and therefore in the hands of the state. Either way, prisoners were being exploited for their work, and treated very badly.
At least the Parchman farm was somewhat regulated. Lynchings occurred during the times of both, but the facts are that many less deaths occurred in the Parchman farm than throughout the time of convict leasing. The Parchman farm was like a return to slavery. The prisoners worked mainly in the cotton fields all day, and some prisoners were made “Gunmen” who made sure nobody tried to escape, much like an overseer in slave times. The was even a house on the grounds for the man in charge of the prison, much like an old southern house a master would live in. He had prisoners that acted as his household slaves too.
The convict lease system was much more horrific, with disgusting conditions, prisoners dropping dead every second. The Parchman farm, it is almost regrettable to say because it was still bad, was essentially a step up in the lives of prisoners.
The last question asked why a certain prisoner was even more sad to look around at the Parchman Farm, and it was probably because it was almost exactly like slavery all over again, an immoral and unfair system that was thought to have been extinguished.
The words “Worse than Slavery” pertain to both systems, however the convict lease system was no doubt worse than slavery, and the Parchman farm was exactly like slavery, which in itself is worse than slavery because it is like reliving a nightmare.

heather said...

Although the title pertains to all aspects and stages of the mistreatments of the time period, the words “worse than slavery” seem to be more pertinent to the convict leasing system in comparison to the Parchment Farm penitentiary. The level of abuse and inhumane treatment of blacks was far more cruel and unjust during the convict leasing than during the Parchment times. Over time, racial attitudes were improving, and although only ever so slightly, this made an improvement during the Parchment times. As explained, “It is safe to say that no other state has come such a long way with its prisons… although perhaps no other state had such a long way to go.” (249) Although there was definite mistreatment through both programs, the “constitution prison”, as it is referred to, was to some extent less horrific than the convict leasing. According to Vardaman’s logic, “Negroes who accepted their lowly place in the human order should be protected from abuse.” (110) By this time, the denial of blacks rights and social acceptance still existed but in a lesser degree. Now, blacks we accepted into the social order, just at the very bottom of the chain. This ties into the concepts Ben previously stated about the respect for human life. I agree with the fact that there was more of a presence of respect for the blacks in the Parchment Farm rather than the convict leasing system. This was the initiating step towards a positive shift that grew over time into a less racial centered society.

aeagle said...

In what seems to be a never ending struggle, the life of a black person residing in Mississippi in the Parchman Era was, once again, very difficult. In both convict leasing and the Parchman farm system conditions for Black Americans were harsh and demoralizing. Even though both systems were atrocious, the Parchman farm system did have the ability and opportunity to become well equipped and more livable than the convict leasing.

During most of Parchman’s existence, the labor was very tedious. Most of the cotton picked on the farm was hand picked (a difficult, and agonizing job). However, prison officials were able to justify their selves by comparing the farm to any other plantations in the state. The prison chaplain claimed, “I know the work day at Parchman is no longer and the work no more difficult than it was for me when I lived on a farm. A good honest day’s work is what is expected or required of any prisoner.” (225) Officials also defended themselves by stating that the convicts were well disciplined and they were fed well.

Parchman’s evil side was exposed with the creation of the Maximum Security Unit (MSU). One inmate commented that the MSU was “where that just beat the living crap out of you. It was death row in one wing, crazy people in another wing, and folks sent to be kicked and stomped in the rest… It got the meanest sergeants and the worst trusties on the farm. We called it “Little Alcatraz.” (229) Parchman was also the home of a new gas chamber. In this gas chamber alone thirty-one prisoners were killed. Out of thirty-one that were killed, twenty-three of the deceased were black.

Even though the Parchman farm system had its good days, Parchman was obviously inhumane, and a horrible situation. Its main purpose was for profit; killing random African Americans was and everyday occurrence. This system was just one other example of how an African American’s first taste of freedom was worse than slavery.

Michael G. said...

The final quote of the book provides a great understanding about the differences between the reformed and previously non-reformed Parchman farm. Over the course of part two in Worse Than Slavery we witness changes in Parchman farm’s dealings with convicts. It slowly evolves from the use of a convict leasing system to becoming a partially self-maintained prison work camp and then finally reforms after the Gates decision. In both the pre-reformed environments the convicts were put to work and their labor would in some way benefit the prison. However, in neither of these situations did the work ensure the convicts safety and in the non-reformed Parchman there were many inmate deaths. These deaths resulted from some inmate violence, a lot of over-working, and many improper prison practices, such as the use of gun slinging “trustees”, who killed many convicts and who were in no way inclined to hold the position, but instead should have been on the other end of its justice. The deaths due to over-working were the result of a leased convict having no value in the convict leasing system. When the convicts were leased out they would be put to hard often-dangerous work and for abnormally long and unhealthy hours. This was different from slavery because here the convicts had no value so when one died he would just be replaced as fast as possible and his death would cost nothing to the employer in regards to money. So to the employer this system of labor was all about maximizing the efficiency of the convicts and disregarding health issues, which is also why some say convict leasing was “worse than slavery”. The only good thing that came from this unreformed Parchman and its greedy use of convict labor was that it kept inmates busy so instead of causing problems and violence they were being productive in some way. However, this is not saying that there was no violence it just means that it was far less common than in the reformed Parchman. As Horace Carter, an inmate of fifty years and one who has been in Parchman prison both pre and post its reform, said about the modern Parchman, “What is missing today is the feeling that work counted for something.” (Pg 255) Carter contributes this to why the modern Parchman is so violent. It is because after the reform inmates aren’t kept as busy so they sit around all day doing nothing just building up anger and then wait to take it out on the first person they see. In the final quote of the book Carter voices his opinion about how the post Gates decision Parchman is better when he says he is, “not looking to go backwards.” (Pg 255) but then he says, “I look around today to see a place that makes me sad.”(Pg 255) With this last statement he is commenting on how even though the reformed Parchman is better its decline in work opportunity for the inmates has kept it from flourishing and caused the state of the prison to go down the drain. He links the problem of greatly increased inmate violence to the lack of the convicts having something to occupy their minds and use up their excess energy. He claims that the new Parchman could learn something from the old one in that area.

theresa said...

After slavery ended, African Americans were still tormented by racial biases. Whites kept them down through both convict leasing and prisons such as Parchman Farm. While these two institutions were both “Worse than Slavery,” as the title of the book states, convict leasing was far worse. Many were killed by white gangs or sent to do horribly difficult work for committing petty crimes or simply thought to have committed petty crimes. These poor people were kept in horrible conditions and suffered with hardly any medical help from many diseases such as malaria. Although convict leasing was the worst of the two systems, this does not mean that the Parchman Farm was a decent prison. Being at the Parchman Farm was like slavery all over again. They were forced to work all day under the hot sun in the cotton fields, were whipped when they “misbehaved”, and were watched by gunmen and bloodhounds. This farm was very similar to slavery, yet it was still a worse institution. The prisoners who came were separated from their families and had their freedom taken away from them. While some of the prisoners did commit horrible crimes such as murder, many were sent there for petty crimes. The punishment usually did not fit the crime. In some cases, the punishment was too lax because whites believed that blacks had tendencies to rape and murder. As stated, “a Negro was found guilty of stealing a $2.98 pair of brogans from a rooming house. ‘He got a year in the state penitentiary,’ wrote Carter, ‘which is no bed of roses and which he probably deserved.’ The second case involved a Negro murder. The sentence: One year. ‘How can such a situation come about? (133)’” Instances such as this encouraged murder in the black community and was unfair to the other prisoners. The prisoners were also fed poorly on the farm: ‘I called it ‘weevil food’…the stuff was full of bugs and worms” (144). While slavery was a horrible institution, the Parchman farm was worse because it basically encouraged crime, which was disastrous to African Americans. Many were murdered without punishment. Those who were sent to prison had to work at the farm, which put them back into an unfair state of slavery for many years.

Monica said...

After the Gates decision Parchman farm underwent a huge transformation. It went from being a “’farm with slaves’” (248) to a maximum-security prison with conventional cells and the works. Longtime prisoner Horace Carter complained about this change. He was not saying that the old Parchman was amazing and he would love it if they went back, but it did have some positive points that the new Parchman is missing.
In old Parchman farm the prisoners worked all day long and spent the day with their community. Now this has all changed. The work in the plantations, even though it was cruel and extreme, gave the men a sense of accomplishment. It made the prisoners feel like they were doing something and it also helped them dispel some of their anger and frustration. In the new system all the prisoners do all day is sit in their cell. They are bored and feel completely useless. Feelings of aggravation increase and they rebel more against the system, whereas before they were munch too tired to do too much damage. The new camps were integrated but this led to gang activity within the cages. Inmate-to-inmate violence increased, they would hurt, kill and rape each other more than ever before. They are not working together as they were in the old Parchman, so all their songs and stories that led to feelings of brotherhood are gone. They were bored and lonely, as one inmate said “ ‘ You stay in the cages all day, you build up hostility… and it’s got to get out somehow’ “ (251).
Old Parchman gave the men a sense of unity. They all had the same work to do and they all hated it. They were much too overworked to commit random acts of violence towards each other, and the inmates had better relationships with each other. Now I am in no way insinuating that old Parchman is something we should return to, but we should revise the new system. Many things are better nowadays, but it seems that the new Parchman is stuck in the past. I think what Carter means when he mentions that he is sad, is that there is so much improvement in so many different areas of life and to see horrors of Parchman is a disappointment.

Erika said...

I’m not convinced that the title “Worse Than Slavery” pertains more to one part of the book than the other. The horrors endured by both convict leasees and prisoners at Parchman Farm were worse than those of slavery in America. It just depends on which of the conditions you believe is worse. During the catastrophe of convict leasing, the prisoners were worked to exhaustion and treated as the easily replaceable source of the labor that the white leasers viewed them to be. They had to survive extremely harsh punishment, unbearable living conditions, and meager food (to put it nicely). The obstacles facing prisoners on Parchman Farm weren’t much better, just different. Whereas men forced into convict leasing feared punishment from the men running the farms, prisoners at Parchman feared not only the whites in charge but also the “trusties” and each other. They were under orders and supervision of the meanest, most intimidating, and often mentally ill men in the south (the trusties), and they were often beaten senselessly and sometimes killed by these men. Prisoners also were at the mercy of the roughest inmates due to the fact that they were not classified or separated based on their crimes and mental conditions. Therefore, inmates were raped repeatedly and beaten by each other. As such, I believe the title “Worse Than Slavery” applies both to convict leasing and Parchman Farm.

Carly. said...

Parchman Farm was undoubtably rough on its occupants. But could it be considered worse than convict leasing, or rather, Worse Than Slavery? I think not. The conditions and treatment at Parchman Farm, although still horrific, seemed more favorable than those of convict leasing. As read about in Part 1, the convict leasing system worked its prisoners to death without a second thought. They were put under harsh conditions, forced to do an unreasonable amount of work over an unhealthy amount of time and inadequetly fed. The reason for this brutality: those in charge of the convicts could simply get another one in the likely event of death; no monetary penalties were even involved in this process. The owners wanted exactly what every business since the beginning of time has ever wanted: maximum profit and efficiency. If this means working their leased convicts to death, then their attitude is so be it. At Parchman Farm this was another case. The convicts were treated pretty much the same as they would have been as a slave. Much fewer deaths were reported in this process than that of convict leasing. At Parchman Farm, they even went as far as using what's called the "trust system". Sergants would appoint guards within their group of convicts, usually those who were in for a very long time. They even went as far as arming these prisoners and allowing them to have special treatment in many aspects of the farm. Oshinsky describes, "Their situation was similar to that of the plantation slave drivers... To keep their position and thier privileges, they had to do the masters' bidding" (p. 141). This "trust system" was certainly not seen within convict leasing. However, with every page it becomes more and more apparant that Parchman Farm was in fact not Worse Than Slavery, but rather turning into slavery itself. These guards, many of the examples of treatment, and even the statement that the farm became "self-sufficient operation" (p. 139) show the growing similarities between the two. Parchman Farm was by no stretch of the mind a "nice" place to be, however, it seems less harsh than convict leasing.

James said...

I believe that the parchman system is a huge improvement over the convict leasing system. This is so because the parchman system gave the prisoners bedding, shelter, food and protection from each other. Under the convict leasing system these same prisoners were leased to whomever desired them and the people whom purchased them did not have to provide anything for them. For example, there were many cases where there was a huge mortality rate of the prisoners working in the mining industries and etcetera. This was so because the convicts were easily replaceable and if one died they could easily be replaced by another for very little cost. As a result, the employers did not feel a need to deliberate,at all, over the welfare of their workers. Also, since parchman was a state run institution it was more likely to draw criticism from progressive and reform groups. Thus, it would also be more likely to be reformed and the conditions improved for the prisoners. This is in contrast from the convict leasers for there was very little attention drawn to them because people needed the goods produced by the workers in the mines for a cheap price and thus complaint was not an economically suitable idea. The parchman institute only served as an income for the state and not for the people and thus the people and reformers would have no reservations in calling for its disbandment or expensive reform to guarentee better working conditions

James said...

I also believe that the title worse than slavery applies to the convict leasing system because there was no regulations on how the prisoners were treated and the prisoners were treated far worse in the convict leasing system than under the parchman system. The parchman system at its least guarenteed the convicts food, shelter and bed. The convict leasing program guarenteed none of these and thus the title "Worse than Slavery" should apply to the convict leasing system. Lastly, i believe that a convict whom had experienced both of the systems would respond that both systems were cruel and involved high beatings, whippings and etcetera. However, in the end one had a much better chance of surviving at parchman because shelter and food where provided where in the convict leasing system only enough food was provided and convicts were left to sleep in the open. The book states that the convicts at parchman had plenty of food, thus guarenteeing them plenty of nutrition and a good chance at survival. Thus, in conclusion the parchman system was far better than the convict leasing system.

gaby said...

In Worse than Slavery Part I, Oshinsky depicts the horrific lives of blacks involved in convict leasing. In Part II, Oshinsky presents a new system held by the Parchman farm. Unlike the planter-owned convict leasing system, the Parchman farm was an actual state penitentiary and all property was owned by the state government.
In the south, whites believed that the blacks were indifferent to jail time. They assumed that the blacks did not fear the terrible things that awaited them on Parchman farm. Basically, whites thought that the blacks did not care for anything when in reality, they did. In WTS, Oshinsky displays a writer's thoughts on Parchman farm: "They do the same work, eat the same food, sing the same songs, play the same games of dice and cards, fraternize with their fellows, attend religious services on Sunday mornings and receive visitors on Sunday afternoon." (136) The writer's assumptsion were false. Blacks knew that life on Parchman farm would be very painful and tedious.
Evidence to prove that their time spent in Parchman, whether a year or life sentence, was nothing far from brutal are the songs that blacks sang while working. Many represent the greif and agony that they all shared throughout the blistering days in the fields. One song was sung by the workers to plead for the sun to set: "Been a great long time since Hannah went down/Oh, Hannah, go down;/Been a great long time since Hannah went down,/Oh, Hannah, go down! (146) The convicts on Parchman also feared the pain of Black Annie, the most painful whip: "Bull whip in one han', cowhide in de udder./ Great Godamighty!" (152) Blacks were not indifferent to the horrible events occuring on Parchman farm each day. They knew about the disturbing punishments.

gaby said...

oh mr beckmann, i was having problems with my account but i did send you a copy of my blog at 6.

Maesy said...

Some may find it hard to decipher whether Parchman Farm or convict leasing was more brutal. While it is certain that both were intolerably cruel, convict leasing seems to have been more close to slavery, if not “worse than slavery.” Convict leasing was taken up almost immediately after the Civil War ended, meaning that the generation of racists who were suppressing the black population in America, particularly in the South, was more incline to enact vengeance upon the black population for receiving their freedom. Parchman Farm was constructed in a new century away from the Civil War yet racism was still ubiquitous in the South. The details of convict leasing were more general in the book, because the practice was dispersed around the country and not as much was recorded about it, compared to Parchman Farm. While both had the goals of punishing the black population, mostly in the Delta, for ludicrous crimes and derive cotton for the state’s economy, convict leasing was not regulated like Parchman Farm.
The two systems have more similarities than differences. The punishments within the systems were very affecting reading. Both used whipping, which reverts straight back to slavery.
The fact that the wardens selected prisoners at Parchman to watch over the other prisoners was perplexing, but the “gunmen” were chosen on the basis of how the superiors could know that those preferred prisoners would know their own inferiority to the wardens. This would probably have never taken place in the convict leasing program.
The tight hold of both systems, for crimes that in most cases were either not tried justly or most definitely not worth jail time, seemed inescapable for many black Southerners. The punishments were conducted by those that had the ability and the want to repress the black population. The reasons for why the convict leasing program was worse than slavery was the lack of regulation, even though it was often that regulation that harmed the prisoners more. Yet it is inevitably decided that both the Parchman prison farm and convict leasing were worse than slavery.

Ryota said...

David Oshinsky's "Worse than Slavery" reveals the continued oppression that African Americans were forced to endure for decades after the end of the civil war. Two of the state sponsored forms of oppression and racism was convict leasing and prison farms,which formed after the turn of the century. Convict leasing was truly horrific in the physical brutality that the convicts were forced to endure. Evidence of this brutality was abundant through witnesses such as convicts "whipped...until his flesh 'puffed and curled like a bacon rind on a hot skillet'"(68). Also, disturbing death rates soared as "mortality rates seemed too bothersome to measure" (68). Thus, it is clear that convict leasing was far worse system of exploitation of African Americans than even slavery itself where they were assured some protection as a result of being a very valuable asset for the plantation owner. However the prison farms that developed after the turn of the century cannot be clearly determined as better or worse than slavery. This is because prison farms such as Parchman were never consistent in the treatment of their prisoners even in the same farm. As one inmate summarized it,"It all depended on the boss man...Your life could be all right, or he could make you wish for hell," (140). The stark difference between convict leasing and prison farms such as Parchman was that treatment of the convicts were supervised. Although this supervision was inconsistent, it prevented the widespread neglect that caused the high mortality rates in convict leasing. However this system did contain a more subtle but more harmful exploitation of African Americans. The use of a plantation-like system was far worse for African Americans in that it allowed acceptance by whites as a "fair" system. Thus, even though convict leasing was worse for the plight of African Americans, the criticism that arose from the brutality of the system caused the unequal status of African Americans an issue and therefore something that could be argued and shed light on the fundamental problem of a nation based in racism. The prison farms though, had created a way to deal with African Americans that Americans were used to and thus did not have strong opposition to. In fact many Southerners would agree to a plantation-like system as the "best" way to deal with African Americans. Consequently the prison farm system hurt the cause of African American equality far more than convict leasing in that it abolished support from the rest of the nation and let the issue disappear from the forefront for another half a century.