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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.