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Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice

4.6 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684830957
ISBN-10: 0684830957
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Editorial Reviews

From Scientific American

Oshinsky's beautifully constructed narrative brings to vivid life one of the most shameful chapters in American history.

From Booklist

Historian Oshinsky uses Mississippi as a paradigm for the shameful history of black injustice in the South between the post^-Civil War demise of slavery and the post^-World War II rise of the civil rights movement. Since its admission to the Union, Mississippi had been a violent place, as the author relates; and brutality to blacks was simply a part of Mississippian culture. After the abolition of slavery, in most white Mississippians' minds, something else had to be arrived at for "keeping the ex-slaves in line." Thus laws were passed designed to maintain white supremacy, particularly when it came to controlling black labor. After a discussion of the deplorable practice of convict leasing, a system whereby people could "hire" prisoners for physical labor outside the walls of prison, the author turns his attention to Parchman Farm, the state penitentiary, "a sprawling 20,000-acre plantation in the rich cotton land of the Yazoo Delta." What transpired behind the fences of Parchman Farm since its founding in the early part of this century is a horror story told here through a rigorous study that should be accorded an important place on the U.S. history shelf. Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (April 22, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684830957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684830957
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
David M. Oshinsky's "Worse than Slavery": Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice, tells yet another piece of recent, uncomfortable American history which must not be forgotten. Mississippi, like other southern states after the Civil War, did not deal well with freed blacks, and developed the system of "Jim Crow justice" which, in many respects, replicated slavery. Initially, the state leased prisoners -- usually blacks -- to private individuals, usually to pick cotton and do other heavy labor. As Oshinsky presciently concludes, this resulted in a more onerous existence for the black contract workers than when they were slaves. Owners, at least, had a vested interest in keeping their slaves fed and clothed, as they represented a substantial investment of capital. Persons leasing convict labor had no such capital investment, and, as a result, had no incentive (other than humanitarian, which, Oshhinsky notes, usually begged the question in white southern minds as to whether blacks were "human" at all) to keep workers from starving or working to death. The system of convict labor, considered "enlightened" by many at the time - and a great source of profit for the State - was an exercise in barbarism.
Parchman Farm, a huge cotton plantation in the Mississippi delta, represented an improvement, in that Mississippi itself owned and operated the farm and tended to feed and house the convicts. The system, however, was far from just, in that prisoners were armed and chosen to guard their fellow inmates, profit was a main goal and justification of the system, and no effort was made to rehabilitate the inmates.
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Format: Paperback
The title says it all: "Worse than Slavery": Parchman Farm and the ordeal of Jim Crow justice. The author supports this bold statement well by documenting the rise and fall of the Southern penal farm, with its brutality, corruption and racism. In order to put Parchman farm in perspective, Oshinsky details the atmosphere of reconstruction in Mississippi, and how the resentment and bias against African-Americans led to racial violence, and eventually a system of forced incarceration. While unlike slavery insofar as it applies to a smaller percentage of blacks, Oshinky demonstrates that the inmates on Parchman farm were worse off than slaves. Furthermore, he also proves that the convict leasing and convict farm programs reinforced the social hierarchy of the white race being superior to the black.

The book's subtitle indicates that it's primary focus will be Parchman Farm, a Mississippi correctional facility that housed mostly black convicts. However, the first 100 pages don't even deal with Parchman; instead, the author discusses the convict leasing system that preceded the penal farm. Convict leasing reflected the consensus belief that African-Americans were fit for hard labor and little else. Leasing involved a corrupt and biased legal system, which placed unfair "court costs" on black males that would only be paid off by hard labor as a convict. According to Oshinky's research, the laborers would have to work long days in harsh conditions with little or no shelter. While a lot of the inmates would die from the extreme working situations, the people of Mississippi cared very little; the leasing system gave former plantation owners access to cheap labor and reinforced racial stereotypes.
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Format: Paperback
Rather an amazing book on one of the darker sides of American society in the south, it almost unbelievable that until just a short generation ago, such a way of life was generally accepted by the white people of the south. Concept of Jim Crow justice seem so un-American that its small wonder why black people today don't wholly trust the white people. The book deals around the Parchman Farm and the Mississippi prison system but I supposed something like this took place all over the southern states during the Jim Crow era. Its a shock to the system but probably a must read material for any one who is interested in the social history of the southern people.
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Format: Paperback
Great writing combined with great scholarship to tell the heartwrenching story of the virtual slavery instituted in the post-Civil War South through the rise of plantation prisons, where thousands of mostly black convicts were worked as hard and treated as viciously as the slaves were during the antebellum years. A shamefully neglected part of U.S. history. Oshinsky's brilliant book is a great work of scholarship and historical literature. A must-read!
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Format: Paperback
Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice
Parchman Farm

"By 1915, Parchman was already a self-sufficient operation. It contained a sawmill, a brick yard, a slaughterhouse, a vegetable canning plant, and two cotton gins. In design, it resembled an antebellum plantation with convicts in place of slaves. Both systems used captive labor to grow the same crops in identical ways. Both relied on a small staff of rural, lower-class whites to supervise the black labor gangs. And both staffs mixed physical punishment with paternalistic rewards in order to motivate their workers.'

In short, Parchman Farm was a farm with slaves." ("Worse than Slavery")

Parchman Farm was known throughout the south as a bad place to go. It was memorialized in song and fiction. ("The Midnight Special" was the train that the convicts' wives and girlfriends rode for conjugal visits; and Faulkner's short story "Old Man" is about two Parchman inmates sent out to help in the Flood of 1927)
It was predominantly black. Once you were inside, it was hard to get out(alive. at any rate )Most convicts served fixed terms and parole was a relatively new concept.
It used a system in which "trustees," usually men convicted of violent crimes and who were quick to fire their shotguns at escapees, supervised the rest.

It was expected to, and usually did, return a profit. In fact, it was a major contributor to Mississippi's economy. The system it replaced, known as "convict leasing," was, if possible, worse. And rehabilitation was not high on the Prison Superintendent's agenda. The superintendent was a farmer, not a social worker.
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