Convict lease prisoners inside the barracks of an unidentified Jefferson
County work camp. The prisoners were kept shackled at all times. This photo is
from the Thomas Dukes Parke Papers of the Birmingham Public Library Archives.
Vagrancy, the offense of a person not being able to prove that he or she is employed, was an innovative and insubstantial fabrication used at the end of the nineteenth century by the state legislature of Alabama and other southern states to put unsuspecting persons in the legal system. It was enforced by local sheriffs and constables, and cases were decided by mayors and notary publics, recorded messily or not at all in court records, and most telling—in a time of substantial unemployment among all southern men—was enforced almost exclusively on black men. Approximately 2,500 men were being detained against their will at more than two dozen labor camps across Alabama. Records were kept on these men and in some cases their families.
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ABOUT FRAZINE TAYLOR
Frazine Taylor has over twenty years of experience as a librarian, archivist, lecturer and writers. During her time as Head of Reference with the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH), she became an expert on Alabama records and particularly African American ancestry. She has traveled extensively and once served as a Peace Corps volunteer and administrator serving in the Fiji Islands and the South Pacific. Taylor received a Master’s Degree in Information Studies from Atlanta University. She is a member of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. Taylor is the President of the Elmore County Association of Black Heritage, Chair of the Black Heritage Council of the Alabama Historical Commission, a member of BBAAGHS and of the Society of Alabama Archivists, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Alabama Historical Association. She is the author of Researching African American Genealogy in Alabama: A Resource Guide (2008) and researched Tom Joyner’s and Linda Johnson Rice’s family roots and ties to Alabama for the PBS series African American Lives 2.