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Convict leasing was a practice that government leaders and private businesses used after Emancipation to re-enslave black men, women, reinstating bondage for generations after the Civil War ended.
At the end of the Civil War, the Southern economy was in shambles. Cities that thrived by producing and transporting goods to serve the slave economy struggled to reinvent themselves
Though the 13th Amendment promised to end the practice of relegating human beings to the status of property, it made an exception by allowing involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.
Government leaders and private businesses colluded to re-enslave black men, women, and even children by falsely convicting them of crimes and sentencing them to labor. This practice became an industry unto itself with prison labor camps and convict-leasing programs reinstating bondage for generations after the war ended.
Bellwood Quarry and the Chattahoochee Brick Company — two sites in Atlanta – relied on this abusive practice. At both sites, African-American prisoners labored under conditions documented as “horrific,” with starvation and sleep deprivation. Physical abuse and death were common.
Bellwood Quarry is now the centerpiece of major infrastructure projects in and around Westside Park, which connects to the Beltline’s Westside Trail. Neighborhoods adjacent to the Beltline corridor are predominantly Black and lower-income, and experiencing “high pressure for gentrification” in a city that persistently ranks among the most inequitable in the United States.
The Truth and Transformation Initiative is organizing an equity-focused, multi-stakeholder engagement effort to build a memorial about convict leasing at Atlanta’s newest and largest public green space, Westside Reservoir Park. Our goal is to create a collaboration across sectors that demands equity and mutual respect as a way to create transformation. We will emphasize power-sharing and peership in this process.
Sharing the truth about history has the power to influence community attitudes, discourse, and policy choices.
No one person or organization can shape a process of truth and transformation for an entire community. A defining part of the Truth and Transformation initiative is bringing diverse stakeholders together as peers, sharing both authority and accountability. This collaboration includes nonprofit organizations, educational systems, government entities, corporations, foundations, grassroots leaders, and universities.
In addition to constructing a memorial at Bellwood Quarry, this project includes several outcomes: