Friday, May 25, 2012

25 May 1901: County Donates Convict Labor to UGA

On this day in 1901, the Athens Daily Banner reported that work had begun on the University of Georgia campus for two new buildings, a dining hall and a dormitory, using convict labor provided by the Clarke County Commission to grade the land.

The dining hall would open in the fall as Denmark Hall, named for prominent Savannah attorney and business executive Brantley A. Denmark (UGA Class of 1871), who had died just days before the cornerstone for the building was laid on June 14th. 

The dormitory was completed in January, 1902, as Candler Hall, in honor of Georgia Governor Allen Daniel Candler. It was the third dormitory built on campus, along with Old College and New College. Residents of Candler called it "Buckingham Palace" and referred to themselves as the "Buckingham Barons." Rivalries between dormitories often went beyond mere athletic contests on Herty Field between the buildings.

Convict labor was a common solution to the need for cheap workers in the post-war South. Prisoners were often leased to private individuals to work on the farm, in their factories, or do other labor, such as railroad infrastructure, at a far cheaper rate than workers hired from the unincarcerated labor force. Convict laborers were disproportionately African-American, and it was not unusual for men to be literally worked to death. 

Though outlawed in 1908 in Georgia, chain gangs to work on public roads and other projects still existed. Clarke County often required labor when fines for misdemeanors such as disorderly behavior could not be paid, sentencing the convicted to work on the paving of the streets or installation of the city's sewer system at a rate of 50 cents per day. 

Governor Ellis Arnall instituted comprehensive prison reform during his term in the 1940s, and chain gangs were no longer permitted. Today, some prisoner work is still done on state and county levels, including basic building maintenance and litter clean-up along major roads.

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