Photographs of African American chain gang in Thomasville, Georgia

Photographs of African American chain gang in Thomasville, Georgia

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Hargrett Manuscripts
Title: Photographs of African American chain gang in Thomasville, Georgia
Dates: undated
Quantity: 0.1 Linear feet (1 portfolio)
Coll. Number: ms3382

Biographical/Historical Note

In an effort to resolve certain issues, officials during Reconstruction (1867-76) approved the leasing of prisoners to private citizens. Within five years, convict leasing was a major source of revenue for the state. Over a span of eighteen months in 1872 and 1873, the hiring out of prison labor brought Georgia more than $35,000. With this success, the state legislature passed a law in 1876 that endorsed the leasing of the state's prisoners to one or more companies for at least twenty years. Three companies took on these convicts at the price of $500,000 to be paid at intervals over the twenty-year span of the lease.

Convict leasing became less profitable during the first decade of the twentieth century as a rising tide of progressivism, culminating with the election of Governor Hoke Smith, swept across the state. Progressives, influenced by the media exposure of convict leasing's inhumane conditions, pushed through legislation in 1908 outlawing the convict lease system. This wave of anti-convict leasing was coupled with a depression in 1907, which made enlisting prisoner labor less economically feasible for companies.

When convict leasing was abolished, the use of roadside chain gangs took its place. The chain gang system relied upon the idea that prisoners were repaying their debts to society through labor on public projects, which the state government supported because it could be done "on the cheap." By 1911 the Georgia Prison Commission reported that 135 of the state's 146 counties utilized convict labor on road projects.

The chain gang system lasted for several decades. The media, investigators, and prisoners complained of harsh treatment during the course of its implementation. Robert E. Burns's book I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!, adapted as a film in 1932, brought nationwide attention to the treatment suffered by these prison laborers. --- New Georgia Encyclopedia. (http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2635&hl=y) Retrieved 1/22/2010.


Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of two small photographs of an African American chain gang in Thomasville, Georgia. Each image is mounted on a white "Pocket Kodak" mount with wide margins. One photograph shows the gang marching down a city street (past a building with a large sign reading "Mitchell House") with shovels and other work implements on their shoulders. The other photograph shows the gang at work at the edge of a grove of trees.


Index Terms

African Americans--Georgia--Thomasville--Photographs.
Chain gangs--Georgia--Thomasville--Photographs.
Hotels--Georgia--Thomasville--Photographs.
Photographs.
Thomasville (Ga.)--Photographs.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Photographs of African American chain gang in Thomasville, Georgia. MS 3382. Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.


Series Descriptions and Folder Listing

 
Box
1Photographs