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Worse Than Slavery By David M. Oshinsky: Repressive Plantation System And Mississippi'S Racial Injustice

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Worse than slavery gives us a view of Mississippi’s scandalous Parchman prison farm. A lot had gone down during this time of race relations that was for sure much worse in some ways than the kind that was abolished in 1865.

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The book clearly talks about Parchman in its prime as a prison farm but it definitely was not the worst part of this new slavery. More than likely it was the most least evils that characterized Mississippi’s racial injustice at that time. In 1830’s to the 1930’s Mississippi was the nation’s most violent state. Its frontier status in the antebellum period of the cotton boom had made a surprising crop of crazy fights and murders between the white men. Slaves had to work in a horrible plantation system but they produced record crops even in their circumstances. In the time of reconstruction there were hundreds of free slaves who were murdered by the KKK and also by local rifle clubs. Most whites hated the black freed man. By the time of the confederate surrender in April 1865, more than half of Mississippi blacks were already free. Some had fled to Union lines from their poorly guarded plantations, others had been abandoned by their owners as the enemy’s approached. In the time of the New South Mississippi was not looking good at all. They had led the nation into all kinds of atrocity.

Mississippi was the state that had the most killings without an arrest. Blacks were the main ones doing the crimes and many of the criminals had been punished right on plantation. They said blacks were a born thief, but it would become the way of life for most freed slaves. Across the south white reactions to this was intense there were calls to bring back the gallows for serious property crimes and the whipping post for misdemeanors such as vagrancy and petty theft. Law enforcements had begun to try and keep the ex-slaves in line. No black man went to trial if a black man was accused of wrong they were most likely killed. Black people didn’t go to jail, jail inmates were whites Mississippi was only in this whole business for profit. Unfortunately for all the convicts on lock down they used them to build railroads, to mine coal and iron, and to fell timber, make turpentine, clear land and of course may them grow cotton in the fields. There had started to be a shift when the convict leasing was created. This system pitted rich people against poor people, whites against blacks, and ex masters against former slaves. It profits would be widely resented and narrowly shared. Yet this entire system grew during the radical reconstruction of Mississippi which was an era of promising racial changes. This system is what the Southern reformer George Washington Cable described as ”worse than slavery. ”

Finally, the whites where embarrassed in Mississippi in the 1880’s by the barbarism of convict leasing. It was in the early 20th century they had succeeded in getting it abolished in just about every place. Convict leasing had been replaced by Parchman, which was a prison farm in Yazoo Mississippi Delta was. Black inmates had gone down from ninety to seventy percent. Parchman ended up being a great success in growing thousands of bales of cotton, which made a huge profit for the state of Mississippi.

Just from the title of the book one would expect the book to be events that were indeed worse than slavery. Reading the acknowledgments before reading you expect to read on stories about lynching’s and executions. Nothing was lacking in this book everything and more than expected was covered from stories on Parchman in its prime, the antebellum cotton boom, worked in a brutally repressive plantation system and Mississippi’s racial injustice at that time. One would think that some of these issues don’t exist still today but they do. Every so often it’s in the news about an unarmed African American shot and killed by a white man. We can only hope and pray that one day racism and discrimination will truly parish.

15 April 2020

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