Slavery by Another Name*: The Convict Lease System (1865-1877)

The convict lease system was a common practice in the south after the Civil War, whereby prisons leased imprisoned Black citizens to private companies, such as railways and plantations, where they would provide cheap labor without receiving pay themselves. This system was termed “slavery by another name” because though the 13th amendment, ratified in 1865, prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude, it did not apply to those convicted of a crime. Prisons made a profit by using “Black codes,” enacted in the south following the end of the Civil War. These codes criminalized many activities for Black people, especially “vagrancy,” which enabled authorities to arrest unemployed Blacks. Workers under the lease system often faced inhumane or deadly conditions while working without pay. This widespread practice continued until WW2, and the 13th amendment still contains a loophole that permits the enslavement of prisoners. *Title of Book by Douglas A. Blackmon


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