The Curse of Cane: Sugar, Race, and the Bittersweet Legacy of Prison Labor Segregation in Texas, 1871-1926
Sugar and coerced labor, specifically Black convict labor, aided in the development andexpansion of the Texas carceral landscape from the 1870s until the mid-1920s. Yet, at the sametime, sugar work performed exclusively by hundreds of Black male convicts became the primary means by which the state performed and sustained Jim Crowism and even gender segregation of its incarcerated classes. In fact, segregation within the prison system, arguably, predated legalized Jim Crow on the outside. Ultimately, the policies and practices wrought by cane cultivation became the status quo for Texas prisons well into the late 20th century, only to be upended by legal challenges in the 1970s and ‘80s. Thus, this paper not only explores the forces that led the state penitentiary to embrace sugar cultivation as part of its standard convict labor program, but it also traces how the state came to rely on a form of racial capitalism to both modernize the Texas penitentiary and maintain old systems of racialized labor and social control to build one of the nation’s most storied prison regimes. Sugar mattered.
Buzzards over Texas: A Story of Race, Violence, and the Search for Justice in the Jim Crow South
My paper focuses on the emergence of the Sandy Beulah community of Black farm owners in east-central Texas. Using digital mapping tools, I reconstruct the region’s history of Black landholding. Considering property accumulation a collective enterprise, Blacks joined organizations that preached an agrarian ideology supportive of farm ownership. Organized Black economic success threatened local whites. Aware that Blacks held meetings but clueless of their content, they spread rumors of a plot to “kill out the white folks.” In the summer of 1910, rumor generated a fear that converted white neighbors into assassins.
About the Labor History Seminar
The Newberry Labor History Seminar provides a forum for works in progress that explore the history of working class people, communities, and culture; class and state policy; unions and popular political movements; and other related topics.