Learn more about America’s dark history of convict leasing—one of slavery’s most painful, unjust, and forgotten legacies—through research into the Lone Rock Stockade.
In the several decades after the emancipation of four million people enslaved in the southern states, white businessmen developed a pervasively unfair system of criminal justice that incarcerated tens of thousands of African Americans from across the Deep South and funneled them into a new form of bondage every bit as cruel, oppressive and exploitative as antebellum slavery.
This “slavery by another name” was convict leasing, and it flourished at dozens of privately owned prisons across the former Confederacy and supplied low-cost and unfree labor for emerging industries in the region.
The Lone Rock Stockade astride the coal mines of the South Cumberland Plateau in southern Tennessee was among the largest of these slave-labor prisons and one of the most influential in establishing the procedures and practices of using the legal system to re-enslave Black men and put their uncompensated labor at the disposal of white industrialists.
The history of Tennessee’s Lone Rock Stockade in the development of convict leasing in the post-Civil War South and the memory of the experiences and fates of thousands of African American men incarcerated there have been largely forgotten, the relics of its existence and these lives now buried beneath decades of accumulated soil and sediment.
This summer archaeologists are unearthing this pressing and understudied legacy of slavery, restoring these prisoners and the site of their enslavement to public memory, and helping us understand the origins of the mass incarceration of African Americans today.
The 2021 Lone Rock Stockade Field School is supported by