Oshinsky's Worse Than Slavery: Convict Leasing

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(Worse than Slavery)

Part One
Oshinsky says little about specific statutes, constitutional provisions, or court cases. Only one case is analyzed at any length, the federal case of Gates v. Collier, which tore down the entire penal structure that was Parchman, from the trusty shooters to racial segregation, in 1972. But Oshinsky is silent on the legal intrigue surrounding the rise and fall of the preceding convict lease and of the move from sharecropper (the Penitentiary Department was a sharecropper at the turn of the century) to state-owned farming operations. Most important was the so-called Sandy Bayou Mandamus case, State v. Henry (1906), wherein the state supreme court managed to conclude that convict leasing could linger on, despite the explicit prohibition of the practice in the 1890 Mississippi constitution, because the contracts the state entered into were leases of land, not of convicts! Part Two

To what degree was Parchman, a so-called “farm with slaves,” an improvement over convict leasing? I guess what I am really asking is to which system—convict leasing or Parchman—does the title, Worse Than Slavery, apply? Convict leasing was horrifically violent and inhumane while Oshinsky describes Parchman thusly: “In design, it resembled an antebellum plantation with convicts in place of slaves” (139). How might a convict who had the misfortune to serve in both of these systems respond to this question? I could draw quite a few different explanations from the book to answer these questions. The title of Oshinsky’s narrative Worse Than Slavery seems to be more of an accurate description of the convict leasing system then to the Parchman Farm state penitentiary. When comparing the institution of slavery to both the convict leasing system and Parchman Farm, many similarities and differences can be made between the two. Both systems purely existed for the exploitation of cheap labor rather than criminal rehabilitation. However, the people who benefitted the...
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