The 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 even 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 this 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). http://www.rounder.com/artist/music/default.aspx?pid=62111&aid=97257
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. However 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. http://www.rollingout.com/insiderohome/ro-today/11140-two-black-sisters-given-life-sentences-for-11-dollar-robbery-this-is-not-justice.html
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…