The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

Book Reviews

classes. He presents a balanced, nuanced picture of how and why Monterrey,
between 1890 and 1910, became the fourth-largest city in Mexico with 342
enterprises with a 56 million pesos investment and io,ooo skilled and
unskilled laborers. During the same period the value of agricultural output,
using 30,000 workers, declined to 6 percent of all production. Industrialists
devised strategies to attract, keep, and train workers. Hacendados came to the
point of forcing family members left behind by fleeing peons to pay off the
debts. A four-page epilogue is disappointingly brief, but Texas historians will
find much of value in this work.
Texas A &M International Universzty JosE ROBERTO JUAREZ
Black Prisoners and Their World: Alabama, 1865-rgoo. By Mary Ellen Curtin.
(Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2ooo. Pp. xi+261. Illustrations,
acknowledgments, introduction, epilogue, notes, index. ISBN o-8139-1981-
9. $59.95, cloth.)
It has long been an article of faith among many historians that the convict
lease system more or less replaced slavery as a means of racial control in the
post-Civil War South. With this book, Mary Ellen Curtin joins this long and
growing list of scholars and others who argues that convict leasing was a "means
of racial repression" that "undoubtedly underpinned racial segregation and cap-
italism." According to Curtin, the lease was essential to "southern industrializa-
tion and modernization."
Curtin begins with an informative discussion of the effects of reconstruction
on African American communities in Alabama, paying close attention to institu-
tion building. Better than most who have written on the subject, she explains
that men and women caught up in the system had forged a self-concept in their
communities that empowered them in the prison context. The struggle to build
functioning communities in a world dominated by hostile "whites," argues
Curtin, fostered the development of a sense of racial superiority similar to that
which evolved among slaves. This attitude was further enhanced by African
American prisoners' successful acquisition of the skills required of miners.
One of the ways "whites" tried to control "blacks" was through the use of the
criminal law. Curtin contends that charges of larceny became a particularly useful
means to undermine the markets African Americans created during
Reconstruction as an alternative to "white"-run stores. Local law enforcement offi-
cials frequently arrested operators of these "deadfalls," as well as customers, and
charged them with trading stolen goods. Such charges could also be used to
undermine "black" political initiatives. The Alabama legislature codified this cam-
paign, justifying enabling legislation as a legitimate effort to control what "white"
Alabamians believed to be a biologically determined "black" tendency to steal.
These very original chapters are followed by less original chapters on
Alabama's adoption of the convict lease system and conditions in prison camps.
Few books ever written on convict leasing fail to explain that Alabama
Democrats hoped to make money on the prison system. Fewer still fail to
describe the deplorable conditions prisoners experienced. Curtin's does, howev-
er, provide the most detailed discussion of the efforts of one official, R. H.

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2002

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed August 22, 2014.