May 11th, 1868

Convict Leasing Begins in Georgia

After the Civil War, Georgia and other Southern states faced economic uncertainty. Dependent on enslaved black labor that was no longer available after emancipation and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, Southern economies struggled to find a new solution. For many, leasing state convicts to labor for private businesses seemed the perfect answer.

Ratified in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment prohibited involuntary servitude "except as punishment for crime" and seemingly permitted the forced labor of prisoners. At the same time, Southern prison populations had grown greatly following the Civil War, and that increase was disproportionately fueled by newly-emancipated black men and women incarcerated for violating discriminatory Black Codes that criminalized unemployment and vagrancy and severely punished even the most minor thefts.

On May 11, 1868, in the midst of Reconstruction, Georgia Provisional Governor Thomas Ruger leased 100 black prisoners to William A. Fort of the Georgia & Alabama Railroad for one year for $2500 under an agreement that made Mr. Fort responsible for their well-being. Sixteen prisoners died before the end of the contract. Undeterred, Georgia officials expanded the system the following year, leasing all 393 state prisoners to work on another railroad. Over the next several years, convict leasing in Georgia proved both deadly and profitable. The state legislature routinely turned a blind eye to reports of inhumane treatment and even murder and, in 1876, authorized the state to enter into long-term, twenty-year convict leasing contracts valued at $500,000.


May 11th, 2010

Arizona Law Bans Ethnic Studies Programs

In the wake of SB 1070, Arizona's controversial immigration law that opponents criticized as encouraging racial profiling, the Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature passed another law, HB 2281, targeting Mexican American Studies classes in the Tucson School District. On May 11, 2010, Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill into law.

The law banned all classes alleged to “promote the overthrow of the United States government” or “promote resentment toward a race or class of people” and classes “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” which “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” In January 2012, the Tucson School District voted to cut the Mexican American Studies program in compliance with the new law, after the state superintendent's office threatened to withhold ten percent of the district’s annual funding, a total of $15 million.

Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, defended the measure, saying, “Traditionally, the American public school system has brought together students from different backgrounds and taught them to be Americans and to treat each other as individuals, and not on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds . . . That is consistent with the fundamental American value that we are all individuals, not exemplars of whatever ethnic groups we were born into. Ethnic studies programs teach the opposite and are designed to promote ethnic chauvinism.” Referring to those who supported the Mexican American Studies program, Horne said, “They are the ‘Bull Connors.’ They are resegregating.”

In addition to cancelling the course, the Tucson School District also removed several books from its classrooms, including Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and The Tempest by William Shakespeare. In a meeting with Mexican American Studies teachers, administrators advised them to avoid any units that included “race, ethnicity, and oppression as central themes.”