In 2008 Doulas Blackman published Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of African Americans From The Civil War to World War II. His book won a Pulitzer Prize for describing the misuse of the thirteenth amendment to commit black citizens to a condition that became known as “worse than slavery.”
The civil war left the southern states psychologically humiliated and economically depressed. Newly freed slaves were legally free and voting and the economy was in shambles. A provision of the thirteenth amendment, making involuntary servitude illegal, “except as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” was misused to arrest and convict citizens and then hire them out to individual property owners and corporations who then paid the state a fee. Many times the arresting officer was given a bounty for securing workers.
Convict leasing, as it was called, began in the 1860’s and became the norm when southern whites retook control of all legislatures at the end of reconstruction in 1877. While the system contributed mightily to the treasuries of southern states, the prisoners suffered from disease due to neglect, continuous beatings, for not meeting work quotas and violence among the prisoners. Children were also victims of convict leasing and were often preyed upon by older prisoners. Without a formal prison system, states were able to transfer responsibility of prisoners to private individuals and collect fees without the trouble of oversight. Northern entrepreneurs facilitated the expansion of capital improvements like roads, levies and bridges during a time when the memory of the causes of the civil war was becoming a memory anxious to be forgotten. By 1910 every southern state, except Virginia, had established a convict leasing system.