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About the Book

Beyond the Book

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 halftones, 5 tables, notes, bibl., index

Justice, Power, and Politics

ISBN  978-1-4696-3000-7
Published: March 2016

Chained in Silence

Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South

By Talitha L. LeFlouria

Awards & Distinctions

2015 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize, Association of Black Women Historians

Ida B. Wells Tribute Award, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

2016 Darlene Clark Hine Award, Organization of American Historians

2016 Philip Taft Labor History Award, Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations / Labor and Working-Class History Association

2016 Malcolm Bell, Jr. and Muriel Barrow Bell Award, Georgia Historical Society

2015 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians' Book Prize

In 1868, the state of Georgia began to make its rapidly growing population of prisoners available for hire. The resulting convict leasing system ensnared not only men but also African American women, who were forced to labor in camps and factories to make profits for private investors. In this vivid work of history, Talitha L. LeFlouria draws from a rich array of primary sources to piece together the stories of these women, recounting what they endured in Georgia's prison system and what their labor accomplished. LeFlouria argues that African American women's presence within the convict lease and chain-gang systems of Georgia helped to modernize the South by creating a new and dynamic set of skills for black women. At the same time, female inmates struggled to resist physical and sexual exploitation and to preserve their human dignity within a hostile climate of terror. This revealing history redefines the social context of black women’s lives and labor in the New South and allows their stories to be told for the first time.

About the Author

Talitha L. LeFlouria is associate professor of African American studies in the Carter G. Woodson Institute, University of Virginia. Her research was featured in the documentary Slavery by Another Name, based on Douglas A. Blackmon's Pulitzer Prize-winning book.


“Highly recommended.”

“A meticulously researched, and immensely illustrative record of the understudied labor efforts made by thousands of black female convicts in the post-Civil War South.”
--Punishment and Society

“An indispensable reference point.”
--Journal of Southern History

"This bold, brilliant, beautifully written book--a significant contribution to the fields of prison history, southern history, African American history, and gender studies--shows why charting the struggles in convict women's lives matters for understanding the emergence of modernity in the New South. Talitha L. LeFlouria rejects a recent and popular thesis that convict labor was simply slavery that persisted, while also illuminating how beliefs about race and sex forged in slavery carried on to shape modernity and the prison system."
--Mary Ellen Curtin, American University

Chained in Silence is a pathbreaking addition to the growing body of historical research on black women and the U.S. justice system. Dr. LeFlouria’s riveting work powerfully unearths the experiences of Georgia’s exploited and often overlooked labor force, namely black female convicts. Through painstaking, exhaustive research, she maps black women as sentient beings (humans who had lives, loves, triumphs, and sorrows) and as prison laborers brutalized by the vicissitudes of convict leasing. Moreover, by historicizing the evolution of convict leasing and black women’s plight therein, LeFlouria ultimately provides a much-needed raced and gendered context for the agro-industrial penal complex operating in parts of the South today.”
--Kali Gross, University of Texas at Austin

“Every page of Chained in Silence is a revelation. The author connects the hideous conditions that black female convicts endured with the emergence of white business supremacy and the modernization of the South. LeFlouria skillfully illuminates the ties between gender, racism, and labor exploitation in the making of the New South. This book is destined to play an integral role in contemporary debates on mass incarceration and prison reform.”
--Paul Ortiz, University of Florida

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