Two great folks from Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy came and shared with the youth last weekend about convict leasing in TX. Not only was I glad for the youth to learn about this important part of our history, but I was grateful for the opportunity myself. The youth were able to do some reflection projects together afterwards which will be a part of the event below. I would highly recommend this opportunity to do some learning and reflecting on the stories of what has been called “the second slavery.”
Please join us!
Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy and Texans of faith will gather on Saturday, March 15th to memorialize and call attention to the history and living legacy of convict leasing in Texas.
We will gather in a field that bears witness to the history of convict leasing in Texas. Participants will be invited to learn, reflect, and take action on what has been described by historian Michael Mancini as, “one of the harshest and most exploitative labor systems known in American history.”
Following the legal abolition of slavery, Texas leased out people in prison to work on private plantations. Workers in the convict leasing system were overwhelmingly from impoverished families—often from parents who had been enslaved—and had little to no education. While our state benefited greatly from the convict leasing system, its victims were subject to backbreaking labor in inhumane conditions. In Fort Bend County, laborers were housed in former slave quarters or hastily constructed barracks. Food rations were frequently spoiled and so meager that men sometimes lost teeth or fainted from malnutrition. Those who failed to meet their quotas or broke a rule were beaten, whipped, deprived of food, or thrown in a dark cell for days. In all, approximately 3,500 people lost their lives to convict leasing between 1880 and 1912.
African Americans were seven times more likely to be incarcerated and were almost always sent to work on plantations, where many died early deaths. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, African American men are six times more likely than white men to be locked up, and are more likely to go to prison than college.
The men and women forced to work under the convict leasing system helped make Texas what it is today. Convict leasing labor generated profit from hundreds of thousands of pounds of sugar, cotton, and other goods that made up the largest source of revenue for the state in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These men and women also laid thousands of miles of tracks, making Texas the state with the largest railroad system in the country in 1900. Quarries and foundries operated by men in the convict leasing system even provided the tons of granite, limestone, and iron used to build the state capitol building.
The aftermath of convict leasing lives on today in more hidden forms in Texas’ criminal justice system. Texas is one of only two states in the country that does not pay incarcerated individuals for their work. African Americans represent 12 percent of the state’s population, but 36 percent of the prison population. There are more for-profit prisons in Texas than any other state.
We remember those individuals forced to labor under the convict leasing system and we commit to address ongoing racial injustice today.
Please join the faith community as we work to end racial disparity in today’s criminal justice system. Contact Caitlin at 512-472-3903 or Caitlin@texasinterfaith.org for more information.
The Sankofa bird translated as “go back and get it” is a Ghanaian symbol that teaches us that we must look to our past in order to move forward. The symbol of Sankofa is that of a bird whose head is faced in the opposite direction of its body. This emphasizes the fact that even though the bird is advancing, it periodically makes it a point to examine/ return to its past, since this is the only way for one to have a better future.