Last fall I took a course entitled African American History of the South I was introduced to many academic concepts that resonated with me. I learned so much and I was glad that I took the course and one of the books we read was Black Prisoners and Their World Alabama 1865-1900. This written work examined the corrupt prison system of Alabama and its impact on African Americans. Historian Mary Ellen Curtin provides vivid details of the humiliation and torture African Americans had to endure working in the coal mines. From 1865-1900 in Alabama many African Americans that were freed people struggled to avoid being subjected to the social dominated by of the Old South which slavery. Curtin argued that White politicians used the prison system as justification to solve financial problems within the state of Alabama. “Democrats implemented new laws and fiscal policies designed to buttress white supremacy; they also very quietly, began to transform the state’s prison system into a profit-making institution.” (Curtin, 61) One key term Curtin reinforces in this book is the term is prisoner. Prisoner is defined as a person held in custody, captivity, or a condition or serving forcible restraint, especially, while on trial or serving a prison sentence.
The black prisoners of Alabama were treated like savage animals while working in the coal mines. They were not able to have access to any form of health care, endured racist treatment, lost opportunities to see their families, and most importantly their freedom was taken away from them. As the prisoners suffered the white supremacy status quo was beginning to become reinforced. African Americans tried to establish and social and political rights to uplift the African American community and this effort strikes fear and anger into the white community of Alabama. “African Americans in Fork land continued to support the Republican party and press for federal action on their behalf. Local elections could still be won, and the principle of absolute legalized white supremacy had yet to be fully established. Democrats sought to overcome the overwhelmingly Republican majority in the Black Belt by perpetuating voting fraud, but blacks in Forkland refused to accept such practices.” (Curtin, 24) Curtin emphasizes that African Americans began to take pride in themselves and sought their independence in all aspects of life seeking education, establishing churches, building their own communities, and having their families restored and legally recognized.
Toni's Thoughts: This book was amazing and I found the book intriguing because the same strategies that were used in the state of Alabama at this time have been used in our current criminal justice system. As the old saying goes "History often repeats itself."