Despite the name “convict leasing,” the victims of this system were far from dangerous criminals. Those who were guilty had usually committed mere petty crimes. More often, innocent African-Americans were rounded up for allegedly violating the draconian “Black Codes” designed, immediately after slavery, to uphold white supremacy in the post-Civil War South.
Once “convicted” in a mockery of a trial, these individuals were rented by the state to do dangerous, backbreaking work for all their waking hours. They were fed almost nothing, lived in filthy and vermin-infested quarters and were beaten mercilessly for missing a work quota—only to be beaten again when they were too weak to meet the quota the next day. When they died, the businessmen would ask the state to send them another black man (who'd probably done nothing wrong) and the cycle would continue.
Decades after slavery was abolished, African-Americans toiled in bondage in Fort Bend County and all across Texas and the South, in a horrific system of forced labor known as convict leasing—slavery by another name. Few Americans know this story at all. Fewer still understand the grave injustice of a state sanctioned system expressly designed to work inmates to death solely to maximize profits for a small group of businessmen.