From The Chain Gang Back to the Fields

chaingThe Jim Crow law were a used greatly to  put black people  back on the plantations and land owned by whites. It was one of the most brutal labor forces  in prison system. It was another opportunity for American to  get free labor and degrade a race at the same time. Most of the men on the Chain Gang in the  late 1800 – 1940’s were African American. It  was a tool  used to maintain  white supremacy in  American’s  justice system . The Chain Gang were work farms, quarries, and former plantation. Prisoners were chained  by manacles around their ankles.

Many of the so- called crimes by black were trumped up charges. Vagrancy was even made a law in order to arrest  black men, women  and also children. They were given hard intense sentences for the smallest fraction. It was the continuation  of colonization and killing of a race. The Chain Gang system started back in the early 1800’s. It was segregated  because of slavery. It later became a work farm to pay off debt to society. It progressed into  racism easy  because of the harsh injustice it issued to black inmates. The prison were dressed in black an white striped uniforms.  They were beaten and whipped for any sign of resistance.

The death rate was very high.  Many died from disease, gunshot, exhaustion,  poor medical treatment for minor aliments, and jjjjjeven poison by the toxic in the shackles that rubbed against the skin. The life  span of most men on the Chain gain was under two years. Many slept without blankets or clothes. There were treated like animal. It was slavery all over again  legalized in a new system of hate.  It was  hard labor, abuse, torture, and destruction to the human soul.

The chain gang was used for  a free labor for highways, roads, building and instructor. It was part of the Old  Road project to Modernized  highways. They also worked off  their sentence on the fields of white farmers and land owned by the prison system. They sharecropped  on land that made money that they  word never see.  They worked that land as the slaves did before them with the  same  despair and no escape. It was almost next to impossible to escape the Chain  Gang. The only way out beside  maybe being released alive…..was death.



“These songs belong to the musical tradition which Africans brought to the New World, but they are also as American as the Mississippi River. They were born out of the very rock and earth of ed388064-3658-40ff-9be7-493cbd12dd4dthis country, as black hands broke the soil, moved, reformed it, and rivers of stinging sweat poured upon the land under the blazing heat of Southern skies, and are mounted upon the passion that this struggle with nature brought forth. They tell us the story of the slave gang, the sharecropper system, the lawless work camp, the chain gang, the pen.” —Alan Lomax This is a reissue of Alan Lomax’s legendary album, Negro Prison Songs, in its entirety. A complete CD of previously unissued material from the same field recordings is also available: Prison Songs V. 2: Don’tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling? (Rounder 1715).


The music and soul of blacks who worked the field have been recorded  documenting the trouble  anguish , tribulation, and disparities they experience by Alan Lomax to name a few. Sam Cooke’s song “Chain Gang” was released in 1960. You can hear in the music the troubled and burden soul of men that  were bound to death. There was no way off the Chain Gang. The movie  “Life”  with Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy gave  insight  to some of the  horrible condition and brutality experienced by those who worked on the Chain Gang.



In the 1920s, a white convict named Robert Elliott Burns escaped from a Georgia chain gang and wrote a book about the brutal conditions he had endured there. In 1932 the movie was made from the book “I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang”  was the story of Paul Muni   who  was arrested for robbery who didn’t do it  but was found guilty and place on  the Chain Gang. His story brought to life the struggle of  Chain Gang in American’s prison.  He helped bring attention to the ugly truth about Chain Gangs. His story helped pioneer changes  in the prison  system. scott%20sistersHowever very little was done for the state of black men that worked the Chain Gang. The segregation of justice and Jim Crow continued. Even to day we see the same injustice in the system that  sentence men and women to harder time for  smaller offence. Two sister were given life system for stealing $11  in Mississippi. They have served 15 years so far. This  is a very good example of extremes racist  injustice in America that still exist.

In the late 1950’s  later the Chain Gangs  died out. The death toll of those who  worked the chain gang  was extremely high.  There were Prison Reform laws passed in the 1940’s that began the slow process of shutting them down. Those  who were  beaten and torture was someone’s brother, grandfather, father, uncle, nephew, and friend. Slavery took one new face with that same old tool during the  many year of the Chain Gang.

Sharecropping gained new alliance in getting the work done for free. These work farms were just old plantation.  Any crime that was  committed  by a black man could be held over his head. He had to pay it off with his  life on the road swinging  an hammer or on the  field without his family swinging a  hoe. Either way America was determinate to make sure that this system of slavery was intact some how swinging away  our dignity.

Slavery  never left the hearts of the  men who started it. It is no surprise that it never left the land.  Chain Gangs were the new slave system put in place  among other things. The industrial  age of machine following the war did very little  to stop the fields of hate. The use of machine versus  the  drive of hatred.  It was a tool to destroy the black man’s soul. Hatred won.

“More than two million African-Americans are in prison right now as you read these words. Charles Ogletree, President Barack Obama’s former law professor at Harvard, sat before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs in 2009 and announced these staggering facts. “While representing 12 percent of the U.S. population and 14 percent of monthly drug users, African-Americans are 37 percent of those arrested on drug charges and 59 percent of those convicted on drug charges, he said. They also account for 74 percent of drug offenders sentenced to prison

The Chain Gang was crying out for our young black men who were still children. They should of being playing with trucks in the grass instead of  pounding rocks with hammer.  Our men should have been at  home loving their family instead in fields hating their life. They were a people stripped and torn  and yet they survived. From the prisons to the white house we will  makes the  dream a reality.  Our blood has dripped in the field of this land  since 1619. How much more do we have to gives before peace be still?

Sharecropping became a way of life for those who had been freed from slavery.  It was passed on to each generation that lived in the farms. Some  knew no other way. The  Chain Gang became a way to take advantage  black   by getting  free labor. It also provided outlet for  racism to  justify breaking the back of another human being.

If the farm land  that once heard the voices of black men on  Chains  Gang singing  could talk ….what would it say? It would cry with them.  It would embrace there broken bodies in its soil. It would lift up a ” help me Jesus” song in the mist of  tears. It would blow the wind  just right to cool the burning sun that  scorched their already beaten flesh. It would  whisper with  a voice from heaven…peace  be still.

From the Chain Gang   and back to the fields we have paid  all we can pay in; the flesh, blood, and bones of those men who died and lived  in shackle in a free land. When  I hear the songs sang by the men that work the Chain Gang,  sharecropping  on barren bitter  fruitful land  I  reminded of  the price  for freedom that was paid on the cross.  Jesus made a way for all men to be free. Freedom that you can have while in chains. Freedom you can have when blood run down your hands. Freedom you can imagine while you are bound in chains. Freedom that keep your mind intact while they beat your flesh. Freedom that give you a song while you raise the hammer high to hit the  “real rock”. You are hitting the rock of heaven in every note and no man know where your peace comes from.  Freedom that comes from  the soul and spirit because of the God you   serve.  Heaven Oh heaven…. Lay my burden down…




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