Powered By:

The Daily Local News

Jan 18

Bayard Rustin, “Twenty-two days on a chain gang”

As I mentioned in “Bayard Rustin: listen Monday noon / basic information" (by the way, that PBS program was very interesting), West Chester native Bayard Rustin led, with George Houser, the first Freedom Ride in 1947 and published the gripping account of his resulting imprisonment as “Twenty-two days on a chain gang.” 

Most of us today in general have little concept of the appalling conditions faced by these heroic pioneers of the civil rights movement and indeed, all victims of segregation at the time.  The 1947 Freedom Ride and Rustin’s article help to enlighten us.

You can see more background, photo, and map, in “Chapel Hill remembers" by Ruby Sinreich, 1/30/08, which summarizes the presentation by Dr. Yonni Chapman on behalf of two civic organizations requesting a state historic marker near the former bus station in Chapel Hill NC.

Rustin and Houser were staff members of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded in 1942 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a peace and civil rights organization dating from an effort to forestall World War I in 1914.  In Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946) the US Supreme Court declared segregation on public interstate buses unconstitutional.  In order to test and draw attention to the ruling, CORE organized the 1947 Freedom Ride known as the Journey of Reconciliation.  After various forms of harassment, the riders were illegally arrested and imprisoned.

(More history: The 1955-56 arrest of Rosa Parks and the ultimately successful Montgomery bus boycott, which brought Martin Luther King Jr to the forefront of the civil rights movement, involved local bus segregation, which in 1956 the Federal District Court (later upheld by the Supreme Court), in Browder v. Gayle, ruled unconstitutional.  In Boynton v. Virginia (1960), the Supreme Court extended its 1946 ruling to interstate bus terminals, bringing about a new wave of Freedom Rides.)

Besides its influence on the sit-ins of the 1960s, Rustin’s “Twenty-two days on a chain gang” spread the word about the desegregation effort and has been credited with securing reform of prison conditions in North Carolina. In Dr. Chapman’s description:

"After serving three weeks in a state prison camp at Roxboro for his participation in the bus protests, pacifist Bayard Rustin wrote “Twenty-two Days on a Chain Gang.” Rustin’s prison memoir—an unsparing expose of the brutal conditions in the state’s prisons—was serialized in the New York Post and the Baltimore Afro-American and drew considerable attention in state and beyond. Among the horrors Rustin exposed was the practice of hanging prisoners by their hands for hours. A group of UNC faculty quickly formed a committee to press for reforms and their demands were echoed by protesters across the nation. Under considerable public pressure, Governor Kerr Scott overhauled prison disciplinary procedures and he appointed a prison oversight committee to guard against continued abuses. The North Carolina chain gang was discontinued in 1949. The 1947 freedom riders were especially pleased about this outcome.”

(Chain gangs were discontinued by 1955 but in some places were revived and may still exist in Arizona, according to Wikipedia and eHow.)

In 2003 I copied the text of Rustin’s influential article from a site that no longer exists.  Since the text seems to be available nowhere else on the Internet, I am reproducing it here by kind permission of Walter Naegle and the Bayard Rustin Fund.

It’s a sizable narrative, a real part of history made and written by one of West Chester’s foremost gifts to the world (and his admirable writing style is tribute to his teachers at Henderson).  Amid the hardships he describes, his desire to make things run smoothly, his philosophy of respect for others (including his jailers), and his faith in “the stimuli of expectancy, trust, and responsibility” stand out.


Bayard Rustin introduces this personal account as follows: “In 1947, after repeated reports that the various states were ignoring the Morgan decision, the Fellowship of Reconciliation set out to discover the degree to which such illegal separation patterns were enforced. In what has since become known as the Journey of Reconciliation, sixteen white and Negro young men, in groups ranging from two to four, traveled through North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee making test cases. It was on one of these cases that I was arrested. Finally, after the North Carolina supreme court upheld my thirty-day sentence, I surrendered and spent twenty-two days at Roxboro. I was released eight days early for good behavior.” An edited version of this account appeared in the New York Post and the Baltimore Afro-American.

Reprinted from Down the Line, the collected writings of Bayard Rustin, Quadrangle Books 1971 

Late in the afternoon of Monday, March 21, 1949, I surrendered to the Orange County court at Hillsboro, North Carolina, to begin serving a thirty-day sentence imposed two years before for sitting in a bus seat out of the Jim Crow section. As afternoon waned into evening, I waited alone in a small cell of the county jail across the street. I had not eaten since morning, but no supper was forthcoming, and eventually I lay down on the mattress-less iron bed and tried to sleep. Next morning I learned that only two meals were served daily-breakfast at seven A.M. and lunch at noon.

That morning I spent reading one of the books I had brought with me and wondering where I would be sent to do my time. At about two P.M. I was ordered to prepare to leave for a prison camp. Along with two other men I got into the “dog car”-a small, brown enclosed truck with a locked screen in the rear-and began to travel through the rain. An hour later we stopped at the state prison camp at Roxboro, and through the screen I could see the long, low building, circled by barbed wire, where I was to spend the next twenty-two days.

The camp was very unattractive, to put it mildly.  There were no trees, grass only near the entrance and to one side. There was not one picture on the walls and no drawer, box, or container supplied for storing the few items one owned. While an effort was made to keep the place clean, there was always mud caked on the floor as soon as the men got in from work, since there was no change of shoes. Roaches were everywhere, though I never saw a bedbug. Once a week the mattresses were aired.

In the receiving room, under close supervision, I went through the routine of the new inmate: receiving a book of rules and a change of clothing, fingerprinting, and-“You’ll have to have all your hair cut off.”

An inmate barber gleefully shaved my head and, with an expression of mock sadness, surveyed me from various angles. Finally he brought a small mirror and ceremoniously held it up for me. The final touch was his solemn pretense of brushing some hairs from my shirt. Then he told me to go out to the corridor, where an officer would show me to my bed. As I left, the three inmates who were in the room doubled up with laughter. Apparently they had discovered the reason for my schoolboy nickname, “Pinhead”!
Wordlessly the officer outside unlocked the dormitory door and motioned for me to go through.

Inside I found myself in one of two rooms into which a hundred men were crowded. Double-decker beds stood so close together that one had to turn sidewise to pass between them. Lights bright enough to read by remained on all night. The rule book states: “No inmate may get out of bed after lights are dimmed without asking permission of the guard,” and so all night long men were crying out to a guard many yards away: “Gettin’ up, Cap’n,” “Closing the window, Cap’n,” “Goin’ to the toilet, Cap’n.” I did not sleep soundly one night during my whole stay at Roxboro, though I went to bed tireder than I had ever been before.

The camp schedule at Roxboro began with the rising bell at five-thirty. By seven, beds had been made, faces washed, breakfast served, and lines formed for leaving the camp for the ten-hour-day’s work. We worked from seven until noon, had a half-hour for lunch, resumed work at twelve-thirty, and worked until five-thirty. Then we were counted in and left immediately for supper, without so much as a chance to wash hands and face. From six o’clock we were locked in the dormitory until lights were dimmed at eight-thirty. From then until five-thirty A.M. we were expected to sleep.

On the morning of March 23, my second day at camp, I shaved hurriedly. When I had finished, Easy Life, an inmate who had a nearby bed, apologetically asked if he might borrow my razor. He had a week’s growth of hair on his face.

"Most of us ain’t got no razors and can’t buy none," he said.

"But don’t they give you a razor if you can’t afford one?" I asked.

He looked at me and smiled. “We don’t get nothing but the clothes we got on and a towel and soap—no comb, no brush, no toothbrush, no razor, no blades, no stamps, no writing paper, no pencils, nothing.” Then he looked up and said thoughtfully, “They say, ‘Another day, another dollar,’ but all we gets for our week’s work is one bag of stud.”
I suppose my deep concern must have been reflected in my face, for he added, “Don’t look so sad. T’ain’t nothin! The boys say ‘So round, so firm, so fully packed,’ when you roll your own.”

The guard swung open the doors for breakfast, and as Easy Life rushed to the front of the line he yelled back, “But the damn stuff sure does burn your tongue-that’s why I like my tailor-mades,” meaning factory-made cigarettes. He winked, laughed heartily, and was gone. I picked up my toothbrush and razor, and slowly walked to my bed to put them away.

A week later I was to remember the conversation. The one towel I had been given was already turning a reddish gray (like the earth of Persons County) despite the fact that I washed it every day. That towel was never changed as long as I stayed at Roxboro. Some of the men washed their towels but once a week, just after they bathed on Saturday.

Each week we were given one suit of underclothing, one pair of pants, a shirt, and a pair of socks. Even though we worked in the mud and rain, this was the only clothing we would get until the next week. By Tuesday, the stench in the dormitory from sweating feet and encrusted underclothing was thick enough to cut. As one fellow said, “Don’t do no good to wash and put this sweat-soaked stuff on again.”

Two weeks later I saw Easy Life borrowing my toothbrush. “My old lady’s coming to visit today and I gotta shine my pearls somehow,” he apologized.

I offered him thirty-five cents for a toothbrush. He accepted the money, thanked me, and said, “But if you don’t mind I’ll buy stamps with it. I can write my old lady ten letters with this. I can borrow Snake’s toothbrush if I wanna, but he ain’t never got no stamps, and I ain’t never got no money.”

I started from the camp for my first day’s work on the road with anything but an easy mind. Our crew of fifteen men was met at the back gate by the walking boss, who directed the day’s work, and by a guard who carried both a revolver and a shotgun. We were herded into the rear of a truck where we were under constant scrutiny by the armed guard, who rode behind in a small, glass-enclosed trailer. In that way we rode each day to whatever part of Persons County we were to work in. We would leave the truck when we were ordered to. At all times we had to be within sight of the guard, but at no time closer than thirty feet to him.

On this first day I got down from the truck with the rest of the crew. After several moments of complete silence, which seemed to leave everyone uneasy, the walking boss, whom I shall call Captain Jones, looked directly at me.

"Hey, you, tall boy! How much time you got?" —"Thirty days," I said politely.

"Thirty days, Sir."

"Thirty days, Sir," I said.

He took a newsclipping from his pocket and waved it up and down.

"You’re the one who thinks he’s smart. Ain’t got no respect. Tries to be uppity. Well, we’ll learn you. You’ll learn you got to respect us down here. You ain’t in Yankeeland now. We don’t like no Yankee ways." He was getting angrier by the moment, his face flushed and his breath short.

"I would as lief step on the head of a damyankee as I would on the head of a rattlesnake," he barked. "Now you git this here thing straight," and he walked closer to me, his face quivering. "You do what you’re told. You respect us, or…" He raised his hand threateningly but, instead of striking me, brought the back of his hand down across the mouth of the man on my left. Then he thrust a pick at me and ordered me to get to work.

I had never handled a pick in my life, but I tried. Captain Jones watched me sardonically for a few minutes. Then he grabbed the pick from me, raised it over his head, and sank it deep into the earth several times.

"There, now," he shouted. "Let’s see you do it."

I took the pick and for about ten minutes succeeded in breaking the ground. Then my arms and back began to give out. Just as I was beginning to feel faint, a chain-ganger called Purple walked over and said quietly, “O.K. Let me use dat pick for a while. You take the shovel and, no matter what they say or do, keep workin’, keep trying, and keep yo’ mouth shut.”

I took the shovel and began to throw the loose dirt into the truck. My arms pained so badly that I thought each shovelful would be the last. Then gradually my strength seemed to return.

As Purple began to pick again, he whispered to me, “Now you’se learnin’. Sometimes you’ll give out, but you can’t never give up, dat’s chain-gangin’!”

An hour later we moved to another job. As I sat in the truck I racked my mind for some way to convince Captain Jones that I was not “uppity,” and at the same time to maintain self-respect. I hit upon two ideas. I would try to work more willingly and harder than anyone in the crew, and I would be as polite and considerate as possible.

When the truck stopped and we were ordered out, I made an effort to carry through my resolution by beginning work immediately. In my haste I came within twenty feet of the guard.

"Stop, you bastard!" he screamed, and pointed his revolver at my head. "Git back, git back. Don’t rush me or I’ll shoot the goddamned life out of you."

With heart pounding I moved across the road. Purple walked up to me, put a shovel in my hand, and said, “Follow me and do what I do.”

We worked together spading heavy clay mud and throwing it into the truck. An hour later, when the walking boss went down the road for a Coca Cola, I complained to Purple about my aching arms. Purple smiled, patted me on the back, and said as he continued to work, “Man born of black woman is born to see black days.”

But my first black day was not yet over. Just after lunch we had begun to do what the chain-gangers call “jumpin’ shoulders,” which means cutting the top from the shoulders of the road when they have grown too high. Usually the crew works with two trucks. There is scarcely a moment of delay and the work is extremely hard. Captain Jones was displeased with the rate of our work, and violently urged us to greater effort. In an attempt to obey, one of the chain-gangers struck another with his shovel. The victim complained, instantly and profanely. The words were hardly out of his mouth before the Captain strode across the road and struck the cursing chain-ganger in the face with his fist again and again. Then Captain Jones informed the crew, using the most violent profanity, that cursing would not be tolerated.

"Not for one goddamned moment," he repeated over and over.

No one spoke; every man tried to work harder yet remain inconspicuous. The silence seemed to infuriate the Captain. He glared angrily at the toiling men, then yelled to the armed guard.

"Shoot hell out of the next one you find cursin’. Shoot straight for his feet. Cripple ‘em up. That will learn ‘em."

The guard lifted his rifle and aimed it at the chest of the man nearest him.

"Hell, no!" he drawled. "I ain’t aimin’ fer no feet. I like hearts and livers. That’s what really learns em."

Everyone spaded faster.

On the ride back to camp that evening, I wondered aloud if this were average behavior for Captain Jones.

"Well," said Easy Life, "that depends on how many headache powders and Coca Colas he takes. Must of had a heap today."

Back in camp Easy Life continued the conversation.

"Dat was nothin’, really," he said. "Cap’n might have done them up like the Durham police did that old man over there."

He pointed to a small, thin man in his middle fifties, dragging himself slowly toward the washroom. His head was covered with bandages and one eye was discolored and bruised.

"Dad," as the men already were calling him, had come up from the country to Durham a few days before for a holiday. He had got drunk, and when the police tried to arrest him he had resisted, and they had beaten him with blackjacks. After three days in jail he was sentenced to Roxboro. When he got to the prison camp he complained that he was ill, but nonetheless was ordered to go out on the job. After working an hour, Dad told the walking boss that he was too sick to continue and asked if he could be brought in. He was brought in and the doctor summoned, but he had no temperature and the doctor pronounced him able to work. When he refused to go back to his pick and shovel he was ordered "hung on the bars" for seventy-two hours.

When a man is hung on the bars he is stood up facing his cell, with his arms chained to the vertical bars, until he is released (except for being unchained periodically to go to the toilet). After a few hours, his feet and often the glands in his groin begin to swell. If he attempts to sleep, his head falls back with a snap, or falls forward into the bars, cutting and bruising his face. (Easy Life told me how Purple had been chained up once and gone mad, so that he began to bang his head vigorously against the bars. Finally the night guard, fearing he would kill himself, unchained him.)

The old man didn’t bang his head. He simply got weaker and weaker, and his feet swelled larger and larger, until the guard became alarmed, cut the old man down, and carried him back to bed.

The next day the old man was ordered out to work again, but after he had worked a few minutes he collapsed and was brought back. This time the doctor permitted him to be excused from work for a week. At the end of the week, when Dad came back to work, he was still very weak and tired but was expected to keep up the same rate of work as the other members of the crew.

A few days later, I told several of the boys that I had decided to talk to the Captain to try to improve relations on the job, since I was sure the guards were taking it out on the men because of me. They urged me to keep still. “quiet does it,” they said. “No need to make things worse,” they admonished. “He’ll kick you square in the ass,” Purple warned.

Nevertheless I stopped the Captain that morning and asked to speak with him. He seemed startled. I told him that I knew there were great differences in our attitudes on many questions but that I felt we could be friends. I said that on the first morning, when I had failed to address him as “Sir,” I had meant no disrespect to him and if he felt I had been disrespectful I was willing to apologize. I suggested that perhaps I was really the one who deserved to be beaten in the face, if anyone did. I was willing to work as hard as I could, and if I failed again at my work I hoped he would speak to me about it and I would try to improve. Finally I said I could not help trying to act on the basis of my own Christian ideals about people but that I did try to respect and understand those who differed with me.

He stared at me without a word. Then after several moments he turned to the gun guard and said in an embarrassed tone, “Well, I’ll be goddamned.” Then he shouted, “Okay, if you can work, get to it! Talk ain’t gonna git that there dirt on the truck. Fill her up.” (Later I learned that the Captain had said to one of the chain-gangers that he would rather I call him a “dirty-son-of-a-bitch” than to look him in the face “and say nothin’.”)
That evening he called us together.

"This Yankee boy ain’t so bad," he said. "They just ruined him up there cause they don’t know how to train you-all. But I think he’ll be all right and if you-all will help him I think we can learn him. He’s got a strong back and seems to be willing.

The chain-gangers glanced at one another. As we piled into the truck one of them turned to me and said, “When he says he’ll learn you, this is what he means:

"When you’re white, you’re right
When you’re yellow, you’re mellow,
When you’re brown, you’re down,
When you’re black, my god, stay back!”

The chain-gangers laughed. We pulled the canvas over our heads to protect us from the rain that had begun to pour down, and headed back to camp to eat supper.

The book of regulations said: “No talking will be permitted in the dining hall during meals.” Not until I experienced it did I realize what a meal is like when a hundred men are eating in one room without a word spoken. The guards stood with clubs under their arms and watched us. I had the feeling they too were unhappy in the uneasy silence.
At one evening meal, I was trying by signs to make the man next to me understand that I wanted the salt. I pointed toward the salt and he passed the water, which was close by. I pointed again, and he passed the syrup. When I pointed again, he picked up the salt and banged it down angrily against my plate. Forgetting the rule, I said quietly, “I’m sorry.” One of the guards rushed across the room to our table and, with his stick raised, glared at me and said, “If I catch you talking, I’ll bust your head in.” The spoons and forks were no longer heard against the aluminum plates. The dining room was perfectly quiet. The guard swung his club through space a couple of times, then retired to a corner to resume his frustrating vigil. The tin spoons and forks rattled again on the aluminum plates.

The morning after my conversation with Captain Jones we were instructed to go to the cement mixer, where we were to make cement pipe used in draining the roads and building bridges. We had been working twenty minutes when the Captain came to me carrying a new cap. He played with the cap on the end of his finger for a while and stared at my shaved head.

"You’re gonna catch your death of cold," he said, "so I brought you a cap. You tip it like all the other boys whenever you speak to the Captain and the guards, or whenever they speak to you."

I had noticed the way the men bowed obsequiously and lifted their hats off their heads and held them in the air whenever they spoke to the guard. I had decided I would rather be cold than behave in this servile way. I thanked the Captain, put the cap on my head, and wore it until lunchtime. After lunch I put it in my pocket, never to wear it again in the presence of the Captain or the guards.

Some of the men left their caps in the camp rather than wear them on the job, and for good reason. There was a rule that when leaving for work in the morning a man was not permitted to wear his hat until he was beyond the barbed-wire fence that surrounded the camp. On several occasions, men going to or coming from work would rush thoughtlessly through the gates with their caps on, and be struck severely on the head with a club. As Softshoe, a chain-ganger distinguished for his corns and bunions, said, “No use courting trouble. If you don’t wear no hat, you ain’t got to doff it.”

One day the chain-gangers were on fire with the news that an old prisoner had returned. Bill was slender, tall, good-looking and sang very well. Some three years before he had raped his own three-year-old daughter and been put in jail for a year. This time he was “up” for having raped his eight-year-old niece.

It was difficult to believe all the tales the men told about Bill. One evening he came to me and asked me if I had time to talk with him. We talked for almost two hours. He was quite different from the description I had heard. He had provided well for his family, he had gone to church, but, as he pathetically admitted, he had “made some terrible mistakes.” It was apparent that he wanted to wipe the slate clean, but in Roxboro jail he could never discover the reason for his unhappiness and troubles.

As I lay awake that night I wondered how ten hours a day of arduous physical labor could help this young man to become a constructive citizen. The tragedy of his being in the prison camp was highlighted by the extraordinary success that good psychiatrists and doctors are having today with men far more mixed up than Bill. I thought of the honesty with which he had discussed himself, of the light in his eyes when he had heard for the first time of the miracles modern doctors perform-and I knew that Bill deserved the best that society could offer him: a real chance to be cured, to return to his wife and children with the “devils cast out.”

Then there was a young boy who had been arrested for stealing. It was obvious from his behavior that he was a kleptomaniac. I would see him spend half an hour going from one section of the dormitory to another, waiting, plotting, planning, and conniving to steal many small and useless items. Although he did not smoke, I saw him spend twenty minutes getting into a position to steal a box of matches, which he later threw away.
One day, after I had written a long letter for him, he began to tell me that he had stolen even as a child but that now he wanted to stop. As tears came to his eyes, he explained that he had been able to stop stealing valuable things but that he could not stop stealing entirely. I asked him if he really wanted to change. He said he thought so. But he added: “It’s such a thrill. Just before I get my hands on what I’m gonna take, I feel so excited.”

After that, as I watched him evening after evening, I wondered how many men throughout the world were languishing in jails-burdens to society-who might be cured if only they were in hospitals where they belonged. One thing was clear. Neither this boy, who reluctantly stole by compulsion, nor Bill could be helped by life on the chain gang. Nor could society be protected, for in a short time these men and thousands like them return to society not only uncured but with heightened resentment and a desire for revenge.

Early one morning Easy Life was talking with one of his friends, who had done time for stealing and was to be released that day. To the despair of those trying to get a few last winks, Easy Life was singing:

Boys, git up, grab your pone,
Some to the right-a-ways, some to the road-
This fool’s made it and he’s headin’ home.
Easy Life’s companion smiled and said for all to hear:
Boys, you stole while I took,
Now you roll (work hard) while I look.

"I can work," Easy Life said, "and I can work plenty, for work don’t bother me none. No sir! Boys, it’s the food that gits me down." And he went to rhyming one of his spontaneous verses:

Kick me, shout me, pull ma teet’
But lemme go home where I can eat.

As I lay in bed for a few last minutes’ rest, I began to think about the food. We had beans—boiled beans, red beans, or lima beans—every day for lunch. Every day, after five long hours of hard physical labor, we had beans, fatback (a kind of bacon without lean meat), molasses, and corn pone. Many of the men who had spent years on the road were no longer able to eat the beans at all, and I saw several men, working for ten hours day after day, with nothing to eat after breakfast for the entire day but molasses and corn pone. One of the most frequently quoted bits of folk poetry described the lunch:

Beans and cornbread
Every single day.
If they don’t change
I’ll make my getaway.
How long, Oh Lord,
How long?

For breakfast we usually had oatmeal without sugar or milk, a slice of fried baloney, stewed apples, and coffee. In the evening the two typical meals were cabbage and boiled white potatoes, and macaroni and stewed tomatoes. On Sundays the meal consisted of two vegetables, Argentinean corned beef, and apple cobbler. Except for being struck with clubs, the thing that the men complained most about was the food. They often recited another bit of folk poetry:

The work is hard,
The boss is mean,
The food ain’t done,
and the cook ain’t clean.

Actually both the cooks and the dining room were relatively clean; the protest was against the monotony of the food.

The hour was getting near for Easy Life’s companion to depart. They brought in the pillowcase in which his clothes had been stored three months earlier. As he dumped his clothes onto the bed, they made one shapeless lump. He opened out his pants and began to get into them. They had a thousand creases. Then he put on the dirty shirt he had worn when he came in, and dressed in this way he left to begin a new life. He had no comb or toothbrush or razor, nor a penny in his pocket. The “dog cart” would come to pick him up and drop him somewhere near the railroad station in Durham.

I looked at him, his face aglow, happy that he would once again be “free,” and wondered how he could be so happy without a cent, with no job, and with no prospects. I wondered what he would go through to get his first meal, since he had no home. I wondered where he would sleep. He said he knew a prostitute who might put him up. Prostitutes and fairies, he had said, “will always give a guy a break.” I wondered where he would find a decent shirt or a pair of pants. Would he beg or borrow or steal?

I wondered if he would return. One day on the job the Captain had offered to bet ten to one that the man would be back before the week was up. As I saw him start forth, so ill prepared to face life in the city, I too felt that he would return. I asked Easy Life what he thought his friend would do when he got to town. Easy Life said, “He’ll steal for sure if they don’t get him first.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “If the bulls don’t get him for vagrancy ‘fore sundown, he’ll probably snatch something for to eat and some clothes to cover his ass with for the night.”

"For vagrancy?" I asked.

"For vagrancy! Sure enough for vagrancy," Easy underlined. He then told me the story of a friend from South Carolina who had been on the chain gang. He, like all the others, was released without a penny in his pocket. While thumbing his way home, he was arrested for vagrancy soon after he crossed into South Carolina, and was back in jail for ninety days, less than two days after being released.

Between supper and “lights out” was our time for recreation. But for most of the men it was not a creative period. The rules permitted “harmless games,” but there was not one set of checkers or chess or dominoes available, no material for the development of hobbies, and no books, only an occasional comic book. One newspaper came into the place, and few men had access to it. There were no organized sports, no library, no entertainment other than one motion picture a month.

[continued in part 2 for reasons of space limitation]

blog comments powered by Disqus
Page 1 of 1