Christopher Muller. Land, Labor Mobility, and Racial Inequality in Convict Leasing in the Postbellum U.S. South

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 - 2:30pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

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Land, Labor Mobility, and Racial Inequality in Convict Leasing in the Postbellum U.S. South

This paper examines the origins of racial inequality in convict leasing in the postbellum U.S. South. Following emancipation, white southerners feared two primary challenges to the region's agricultural economy and social order: African Americans' flight from farms to cities, and African Americans' ability to procure land. Because of the informal nature of the South's justice system, white civilians exercised considerable control over the arrest and conviction of African Americans for minor offenses such as property crimes. Using archival administrative records of the Georgia convict lease system, combined with the complete 1880 U.S. Census, I find that African Americans living in urban counties or in counties where the per-capita value of land owned by African Americans was high were much more likely to be incarcerated for property crimes than similar individuals in rural counties or in counties where African Americans were largely excluded from landownership. The paper closes with a discussion of the connection between historical racial inequality in convict leasing and the persistence of racial disparity in incarceration today.

Christopher Muller is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Harvard University. His dissertation examines racial inequality in American incarceration in the postbellum South, during the Great Migration, and following postwar suburbanization. His interests are the historical origins of racial inequality in incarceration in the United States, the social consequences of mass imprisonment, and the long-term effects of slavery and the economic institutions that succeeded it.