Yesterday’s post about the Julia Tutwiler prison was actually a shortened version of a longer one I wrote, and it may not have been the most recent version, either. BlogDesk ate my post — twice, and I didn’t have the heart to try to write the rest of it a third time.
There was a 2nd Wall Street Journal article to go with the one about “A Different Kind of Slavery.” “The World War II Effect” tells how the federal government stepped in to deal with a convict labor system that was really just a type of slavery. The Roosevelt administration feared the type of propaganda use that could be made of the system by Japan and Germany, and it needed African-Americans to fight in the war. (This was a time when Nate Shaw (Ned Cobb) was serving time at this prison.)
Russia also had a system of convict labor on a much more massive, cruel scale — before, during, and after the war. I just recently finished Anne Applebaum’s book about it: “Gulag: A history.” Joseph Stalin was also very concerned about what the outside world would think of it. His solution was to keep the outside world from knowing about it.
It may also be worth mentioning that the American Communist Party had been getting involved in sharecropper unions in the 30s, and helped Nate Shaw protect his private property rights. That may not have been its ultimate objective, but it did provide legal assistance and sent a small monthly allowance to his wife while Nate was in prison. It helped her make ends meet.
Nate Shaw was not a sharecropper at the time of his little gunfight. He owned his own farm. That was part of the problem, though. Powerful elements of the local establishment did not care to have African Americans who were not in a state of debt and dependence. And, of course, they wanted his farm, too.
I can’t do justice to the story, though. For that, you should read the book. It’s a much more complicated story all around than I could begin to explain by myself.
I rode past the prison both coming and going on April 4 2006. The second time, it seemed to me that guards in the above tower were beginning to pay a bit of attention to me. I didn’t have any more photo ideas, though, so I moved on.