Atlanta Will Be First City to Memorialize Convict Labor

Two monuments coming to Atlanta reckon with the city's history of using incarcerated laborers.

2 minute read

January 18, 2022, 11:00 AM PST

By rkaufman


Incarcerated people work in a rock quarry, possibly Keith Quarry near Palmetto, Georgia, around 1948.

Incarcerated people work in a rock quarry, possibly Keith Quarry near Palmetto, Georgia, around 1948. | courtesy of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Georgia State University.

The history of Atlanta is set in brick.

It began after the Civil War, when slavery gave way to another form of labor: convict leasing. Black people, many of them children, were arrested for such “crimes” as talking loudly in the company of a white woman or not stepping off the sidewalk when a white person approached. Private companies would then lease these incarcerated people for unpaid labor in inhumane conditions.

“It’s one of those pieces of history that nobody really knows about,” says Donna Stephens, an environmental activist in Atlanta. “There’s so many people that I’ve spoken to that are just in shock about that part of American history. [To them] it’s as if slavery ended and [Martin Luther King Jr.] showed up.”

One of the outfits that profited off convict labor was the Chattahoochee Brick Company in Atlanta. For 30 years, workers there made 200,000 bricks a day—the very bricks that built the city during a formative period. These bricks are throughout downtown and in older buildings and sidewalks, says Douglas A. Blackmon, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on convict leasing. The workers, 30% of whom were children, were whipped, fed rotting food and warehoused in substandard housing. Some were worked to death.

Years later, Atlanta is beginning to reckon with its history of convict labor and the role it has played in not only the city but throughout the South. Plans exist to memorialize the former site of Chattahoochee Brick and at the recently opened Westside Park a few miles away.

Atlanta will be the first city to acknowledge convict labor on a large scale.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022 in Next City

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Multistory apartment building under construction.

New Tennessee Law Allows No-Cost Incentives for Affordable Housing

Local governments in the Volunteer State can now offer developers incentives like increased density, lower parking requirements, and priority permitting for affordable housing projects.

June 10, 2024 - Nooga Today

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

Bike parking in underground area with ramp for taking bikes upstairs.

California Building Code to Add Bike Parking Requirements

Convenient and secure bike parking can make a major impact on whether people adopt biking as a daily transportation option.

2 hours ago - Streetsblog California

Close-up on map of Kemmerer, Wyoming.

Nation's First Nuclear Power Plant in Nearly Half a Century Breaks Ground in Wyoming

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had shovel-in-hand for the groundbreaking of his company's small-scale nuclear power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming, on June 10.

3 hours ago - WyoFile

Close-up of red Houston BCycle bike share bikes parked at a station

Houston Will Be Largest US City Without Bike Share

The city’s bike share system will cease operations at the end of June.

4 hours ago - Houston Public Media

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.