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Profits First! Convict Labor in America, book: Worse than Slavery, D. Oshinsky

In Worse than Slavery, David Oshinsky writes about a world of forced toil with which we are more familiar: the great agricultural slave labor camp of Parchman Farm in the Mississippi Delta. Actually, Oshinsky's canvas is much wider than Parchman itself. Indeed, he seeks to provide the reader with a historical explanation for the rise of convict labor that stretches back into the history of antebellum Mississippi.

The imposition of white supremacy and the end of Reconstruction in 1876, ushered in the convict labor system in Mississippi. "Reedemer" legislators the new fiscally-conservative lords of a one-party state were not particularly interested in reforming prisoners. Oshinsky notes that "They knew white taxpayers would never fund an expensive penitentiary whatever their worries about crime."

White supremacy in Mississippi meant all-white juries. Furthermore, "Blacks were rarely represented by counsel, and their testimony was often restricted to cases in which whites were not directly involved." Court fees were exorbitant and non-payment guilty or not meant a prison term. Oshinsky thus makes clear the connections between disenfranchisement, the onset of segregation, and the system of criminal "justice" for African Americans.

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