"Negro Quietly Swung Up by an Armed Mob …All is quiet."
On the night before Green Cottenham's death at Slope No. 12, a mob of twelve thousand white people rampaged in Springfield, Illinois, the longtime homeplace of Abraham Lincoln and site of Theodore Roosevelt's "square deal for the Negro" promise five years earlier.
A month earlier, on July 4, Springfield police thwarted the killing of a black man accused of murdering a local white businessman. On July 12, passengers on a Central of Georgia train passing Round Oak, Georgia, watched out their windows as a crowd seized and hanged a black man for pulling a knife during a brawl with a local white. Two days later, in Middle-ton, Tennessee, a mob of one hundred hanged Hugh Jones for allegedly making an advance on a seventeen-year-old white girl.1 Less than twenty-four hours after that, an elderly black man was shot to death in Beaumont, Texas, after a gang of marauding whites mistook him for a younger African American accused of hitting a thirteen-year-old white girl. The mob was setting two black-owned businesses afire when the victim passed, but paused long enough to kill the man.2
The next week, news of a notably sordid lynching in Dallas, Texas, flashed across national newswires: after an eighteen-year-old African American named Tad Smith was accused of raping a white woman, a crowd of one thousand whites tied him to a stake in the ground, surrounded him with kerosene-soaked wood, and cheered as they watched him burn to death.3
A week later, only a detachment of Georgia state militia in the town of Ocilla was able to prevent the lynching of four randomly seized African Americans taken by a mob after a white woman claimed an unidentified black man entered her hotel room. The next day, a mob in Pensacola, Florida, attacked the jail where Leander Shaw was being held for an alleged sexual assault and knifing of a white woman. The sheriff and two deputies resisted a crowd that grew to one thousand, shooting and killing at least two of the white men attacking the jail. Sometime after midnight, the crowd overwhelmed police, took Shaw from his cell, dragged him two blocks with a noose on his neck, hanged him from a light pole in the center of the city's park, and then began firing on his corpse. "2,000 bullets completely riddled his body," wrote a correspondent for the Atlanta Constitution. On the same night, in Lyons, Georgia, a white crowd tore through a brick jail wall to reach and kill a black man accused of assault on a local white girl.4
Two days later, about one hundred white men broke into the Russell-ville, Kentucky, jail and seized a black farmer accused of killing his white landlord; they took three other African Americans from the jail as well, and hanged all four from a tree on a country road. A note attached to one body read: "Let this be a warning to you niggers to let white people alone."5
Back in Springfield, a white woman falsely claimed rape on August 14, after her secret sexual affair with a local black man was discovered. The mob that raged that Friday night killed at least seven black people, destroyed much of the African American section of the town, and issued proclamations that no blacks should return to the city. Calm was restored only after the arrival of four thousand soldiers.6
Two weeks later, a delegation of prominent Birmingham citizens visited leaders of the striking miners still encamped in tents outside the Alabama mines and issued an explicit threat. The owners of Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad, Sloss-Sheffield, and Pratt Consolidated Coal—the three biggest companies and each a major buyer of forced black laborers—made clear they would do anything necessary to crush the strike. Unless the strike ended, Birmingham would "make Springfield, Illinois look like six cents," according to a newspaper reporter who shadowed the visit.7
Alabama governor Braxton Comer issued a statement insisting no such madness would be necessary to destroy the biracial labor activists of Birmingham. Telling union leaders that he and other white officials were "outraged at the attempts to establish social equality between black and white miners," he demanded that the strike end. He added that he would not tolerate "eight or nine thousand idle niggars in the State of Alabama."8 When the walkout continued, Governor Comer called the unrest a threat to white supremacy and dispatched the militia on August 26 to cut down the tents of strikers and break up their camps.
Facing armed military units and out of money, the strike collapsed on September 1. Free miners returned to their company housing and reen-tered the forbidding shafts. Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad redistributed its prisoners back into multiple shafts at the Pratt Mines.
Tensions hardly eased. Death in U.S. Steel's slave mines continued its march—two men in September; six more in October. Early in November, Birmingham buzzed with word of the latest southern lynching. A black man named Henry Leidy was accused by a fifteen-year-old girl in Biloxi, Mississippi, of sexual assault. Quickly taken from the town jail, he was hanged from a tree overlooking picturesque Back Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. "Negro Quietly Swung Up by an Armed Mob …All is quiet here tonight," wrote the Birmingham Age-Herald on its front page.9
Less than a week later, black convicts working alongside free miners in the Pratt No. 3 mine grew desperate enough to attempt an impossibly irrational escape plan. As the day shift of workers was leaving on November 16 to return to the prison stockade, about fifty African American prisoners couldn't be accounted for. Extra guards were called, but the missing miners didn't reappear. A new crew of sixty men descended into the shaft to keep operations under way.
Long past nightfall, a guard spotted smoke and then a burst of flames coming from timbers supporting the manway the tunnel used by miners to enter and leave the shaft. Within minutes, the passageway was filled with flames. Guards quickly discovered forty of the missing miners waiting near another mine entrance with dynamite—planning to blow open an iron gate during the chaos and make their escape.
Eight other conspirators, who had set the diversionary fire, became trapped in the burning manway when one section of the tunnel's roof collapsed as the conflagration incinerated support timbers. Engulfed in the flames, the miners were "roasted and suffocated," according to a newspaperman on the scene.10 The Board of Inspectors of Convicts recorded the deaths due to "asphyxiation." The fire burned for days. But within a week, convicts were back in the tunnels of No. 3, digging coal again. By the end of 1908, the first full year of U.S. Steel's ownership of the Pratt Mines, nearly sixty of the company's forced laborers had died.11
Everywhere in the slave mines of Birmingham was death. Hardly any week passed when one or more dead black corpses weren't dragged up from inside the earth, heaped atop the mounds of coal in the railcars, or found dead in the simple infirmaries of a prison. Often no one knew or would say how a man died. The coroner of Jefferson County—a dour man named B. L. Brasher—made almost continual visits to examine the dead or investigate the causes of their demise.12
On July 20, 1909, Brasher went to examine the body of Joe Hinson, sentenced to a life term for murder and sold into Pratt's No. 11 mine. Hinson had encouraged the story that his sentence was for chopping off the head of a man in the town in East Lake after an argument over Hinson's dog. A brutish record like that—whether true or not—could save a convict from other prisoners, but not from the mine itself. Charles Jones, another "prisner at Prat mines #11," as Brasher scrawled the notation, watched as Hinson loaded his coal car deep in the shaft and then slipped in the confined quarters. As he fell, his hand touched a live electric line. He died instantly from electrocution.
On March 12, 1910, Harrison Grant, a slight eighteen-year-old boy from Lowndes County with dark brown skin and a small scar atop his head, was digging alone in a room off the main shaft of Pratt No. 12—seven months into a term of one year and one day for burglary. Grant had no formal education. His parents, three brothers, and a sister lived in Montgomery.
As he hammered a wedge into shale beneath the coal seam, the entire wall of rock suddenly collapsed, crushing him. There was little in the obliterated mass of his body with which to identify him. The coroner noted that he "wore shoe and hat #8."
Matt Dunn, an illiterate twenty-six-year-old black farmer from Pickens County with missing teeth and only five feet three inches tall, was crushed on April 22, 1910, in the No. 12 mine, trapped between a mining car and a "rib" of the mine—slang for the columns of rock and coal left as supports for the roof of underground chambers and shafts.13
The next day, inmates Will Burck and Will Williams began fighting in the same shaft. Burck, a common laborer arrested in Russell County for burglary, was gored first in one side and then through the head with a mining pick. Archey Hargrove, a black man from Hale County, was found dead in No. 2 mine on July 3, 1910.
Sometimes death came in plainly obvious ways. Eugene Phillips, a twenty-five-year-old black prisoner with a "ginger-cake complexion," being held at the No. 12 prison for two years on a charge of forgery, died July 16, 1910. "I found deceased came to his death from a lick in the left side with a mining pick, at the hands of Clifford Reese," wrote Brasher. The two men had fought for reasons no witness could recall. It ended with the shaft of pick imbedded in Phillips, a farm boy from Chilton County. W M. Hicks died at the same mine on July 28 for reasons unknown. Frank Alexander was stabbed to death on August 25, by a convict defending himself from Alexander. Gus Miles was crushed by falling rock in another Pratt mine on September 24.
On the first day of October, miners at the No. 3 prison in Ensley entered a dormant section of the mine and found submerged in the rancid backwater the rotting body of Will Lindsay. A forty-one-year-old black man, he had been sold by Shelby County sheriff Fulton to Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad in November 1908. Lindsay was reported escaped the following July. Guards assumed he slipped out of the prison. His remains proved he'd disappeared into the black labyrinth of the forgotten section of the dig. "This negro has never been heard of since his escape and is quite possible that in trying to make his escape he got lost in abandoned part of mines and died from starvation and bad air," the coroner wrote.
Just before Thanksgiving, a sixteen-year-old black farmhand from Bar-bour County, serving 729 days leased to the mines for an unrecorded theft, was killed by an accidental explosion of dynamite in the Banner Mine. Also dead was twenty-seven-year-old John Tate and a free white worker named Fred Woodman.
Four days later, on December 5, the desiccated remains of Joe L. Thomas, another black man who had attempted to escape the Pratt No. 2 prison, was found lost in the fearsome place miners gave an almost ethereal name: the "gob." Inside the great maze of tunnels and rooms abandoned beneath the earth, often filled with escaping methane gas and the toxic runoff of active shafts, the gob was an utterly lightless, nearly impenetrable maze of tunnels and unventilated gas. "Deceased came to his death from exposure, as he had been in ‘gob’ of mine for two or three weeks, trying to escape," the coroner wrote.
On January 21, 1911, Walter Cratick's skull was split with a mining pick by another convict at the Banner Mine. A county convict arrested in Jefferson County for petit larceny barely a month before his death, Cratick was a twenty-seven-year-old farmhand from Barbour County, with a limp from a broken hip, one tooth missing from his upper and lower jaws, and a long scar on his left side. Just 145 pounds and a little over five feet, his term was six months. The coroner ruled his death a justifiable homicide.
On January 31, 1911, Dink Tucker was found dead "for unknown reasons" at Pratt Slope No. 12. Nearing the end of his one-year sentence to the mine, Tucker left behind a wife and two young boys in Chambers County.
Cassie McNally died from falling rock at the Pratt No. 2 mine on February 28, 1911. Essex Knox was found dead at the same shaft on April 6. "I found deceased came to his death by being mashed to death in the #2 prison by falling rock," wrote the company physician.
By the spring of 1911, the coroner was making more and more trips to the rising new competitor to U.S. Steel's Pratt Mines. One of Birmingham's most admired coal mining engineers and executives, Erskine Ramsey, organized the Pratt Consolidated Coal Company in 1904—quietly merging several small companies and acquiring 98,000 acres of coalfields in Alabama.
A lifetime bachelor more comfortable with machines and metal than men and women, Ramsey was intent on eclipsing his former employer by building the most aggressive and profitable industrial concern of the South. Pratt Consolidated had by 1911 opened nine new drift mines on previously undeveloped coalfields twenty miles north of the Pratt Mines. The company's showcase was the Banner Mine, a deep shaft featuring the first installation of electric lights, cutting tools, and hauling equipment—some of it invented by Ramsey himself—and the largest prison compound in the state, surrounded by a fifteen-foot-high wooden stockade.14 Ramsey sought to obtain as many convict workers as the sheriffs of Alabama would sell.
On April 8, 1911, two black convicts at the Banner Mine died from inhaling afterdamp—the noxious combination of carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and other gases left behind when methane vapor ignites in a mine. One week later, near dawn on a rainy Saturday morning, just after the day shift of convicts reached their positions inside Banner, an ignition of blasting powder triggered a massive detonation. A handful of men nearest the initial blast died instantly; the ventilation fan that pushed fresh air deep into the shaft was blown out of position by the force of the explosion. The sudden flash of fire consumed much of the oxygen in the tunnels. Into the chemical vacuum created by the absence of oxygen poured what miners called, with terror, "black damp"—a suffocating mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. About a dozen men still near the 1,700-foot chute leading into the shaft escaped to safety. The rest—113 black prisoners, the vast majority of them being held for trivial misdemeanors, ten white prisoners, and five free miners—were killed by the gases.
A quickly impaneled coroner's jury certified that the company was "using all reasonable means for the prevention of accidents" and was not culpable in the deaths. Most of the bodies of the dead were quickly dumped in a long trench dug by other prisoners in the mine's convict cemetery just outside the stockade.15 Within two weeks, the Banner Mine was in operation again, with a fresh contingent of black prisoners.
Alabama's other slave mines never slowed production in the aftermath of the disaster. Cleve Watts died at Prison No. 12 on May 22, 1911, "struck in the head with a mining pick." Less than a month later, June 20, 1911, Lee Lawson was killed in the same mine in a rock fall. On July 29, Frank Miller was shot to death by two guards as he tried to escape No. 12.
A week later, Jim Minor died in a pickaxe fight at Sloss-Sheffield's Flat Top mine. Ed Jerring was crushed by "being jammed between two cars" in TCI's No. 12 mine on September 29, 1911. Jackson Wheeler died from "an electric shock" at the company's No. 2 prison on October 3, 1911. Henry Carter was killed at Slope No. 12 prison the same day, "from falling rock."16
The gruesome fates of all those men ricocheted across the landscape of black life, depositing as they spread new layers of tragedy atop the deep residue of trauma left by thousands of prior horrors from inside and outside the South's forced labor camps. Together, these events formed the foundation of a collective recognition among African Americans of their precarious vulnerability in American society. In the early years after Reconstruction, such news traveled like a telegraph, flashing from one outraged bearer of the word to another. Preachers decried the crimes against innocent men from their pulpits. Before the final ouster of blacks from virtually all southern elections, African American voters cast ballots against those who abided the system, in rare cases forcing a local official out of office—as blacks once did to a sheriff in Chattanooga, Tennessee, after he permitted the lynching of a man from his jail.17 There were isolated cases when black prisoners collectively refused to work in protest of brutal punishments meted out—and of convicts physically attacking their overseers.
But such resistance was almost invariably crushed with the sheer force of guns, mob violence, and economic isolation. By the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, word of each new outrage moved osmotically absorbed often without explicit note into the shared experience of a black society in which nearly all realistic hope of authentic independence had been shattered. The new slavery of Alabama achieved its zenith. Three massive industrial concerns—U.S. Steel's Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad unit, Sloss-Sheffield, and now Pratt Consolidated—competed mercilessly for forced laborers. Other industrial concerns stood ready to step in if any major player receded. The system arrived at a cynical optimum of economic harmony, knitting together the interests of capitalists, white farmers, local sheriffs and judges, and advocates of the most cruel white supremacy—all joined and served by an unrelenting pyramid of intimidation.
The companies, producing nearly fifteen million tons of coal annually by 1910, held more than three thousand black men against their will in Alabama's mines at all times—creating a bulwark against labor unrest and an enormous economic subsidization to their most critical cost of production. Hundreds more African Americans worked in southern Alabama timber and turpentine camps operated by Henderson Lumber Company, Horse Shoe Lumber Company, McPhaul Turpentine Company, a textile factory in Prattville, and other businesses. Hundreds more—no one kept count—were parceled out by local sheriffs to farmers and businessmen scattered around the state.
The reality of incarceration in the slave mines became so ubiquitously understood for African American men that landlords and local sheriffs— equipped with almost unchecked powers of arrest and conviction and enormous personal financial interest in providing labor to the mines and other enterprises—could make almost any demand upon any black man. More often than any other, that demand was that they remain on the land of specific white farmers, living lives of supposedly voluntary serfdom or as prisoners sentenced to that fate under the system of "confessions" ratified by Judge Jones in 1903. Across the Black Belt of Alabama, more than ninety thousand African American families lived in the darkness of that oppression with only rare protest.
In Barbour County, 170 miles from Birmingham, deep in the cotton country of southern Alabama, the shadow was cast in the shape of two brothers, William M. and Robert B. Teal. In 1911, when a term-limit law forced William to give up his job as sheriff, Robert was elected to the job instead. William became his chief deputy. "The brothers just swapped places," according to the local newspaper, the Clayton Record.18
Because it controlled the county's convict leasing franchise, the sheriff's office was a plum asset. Over one ten-year period, Barbour County sent 691 men to the coal mines, primarily those operated by Sloss-Sheffield and Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad.19
The Record took little note, among its weekly coverage of cotton prices, buggy accidents, and lost mules, of the disappearance of so many local black men. It enthusiastically covered the lynchings of African Americans, occurring with regularity in nearby towns and across the South. It labeled as "niggers" those African Americans who gathered in Georgia for a celebration on the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Northern whites who lent support to well-known African Americans such as Booker T. Washington were "negrophilists."
On Confederate Memorial Day that April, the keynote speaker, standing atop a platform festooned with the battle colors of the Confederacy, received "deafening" applause, according to a reporter, as he told the crowd nearly five decades after the legal end of slavery that the forced labor of blacks had been completely constitutional and never violated "divine or moral law." A local white girl gave a reading of Uncle Remus stories. Organizers plied the crowd for donations to help erect a memorial on the town square to southern veterans of the Civil War.20
Prospects for any black man who crossed Sheriff Teal and his brother were grim. The jail itself was cramped and unsanitary, and had been formally condemned by state inspectors.21 What went for justice for African American defendants was swift. After one trial of "a negro charged with violating prohibition" in 1911, a local judge in Eufaula, the more prosperous cotton trading town twenty miles to the east, explicitly instructed the jurors to convict the man. When the jury unexpectedly acquitted instead, Judge M. Sol-lie threatened to have the jurors arrested for contempt of court.22
Once convicted, African Americans were routinely sent to the coal mines near Birmingham for offenses as slight as selling a bottle of moonshine. Most months, the Teals arrested fewer than twenty men. Then suddenly dozens of minor offenders were rounded up over a few days’ time and charged with vagrancy, alcohol violations, and other minor offenses. Nearly all were quickly sentenced to hard labor and shipped out within ten days to fill a gap in men at the coal mines.23
On any given day in the summer of 1912, the county jail near the town square in Clayton held from ten to two dozen men, awaiting the arrival of circuit judges who rotated through the area's towns. A man named Edwin Collins was charged with eavesdropping. Another black man, Josia Marcia, was being held for allegedly having had sexual relations with a white woman. Louis Denham had been arrested for vagrancy. Housed with them were Ad Rumph, Henry Demas, Jackson Daniels, and Peter Ford, four African American men accused in the murder of a sharecropper named George Blue. Demas, seventeen years old, and his wife were boarders in the house of Rumph, another young black farmer, on property near the remote farming community of Mt. Andrew. Demas could read and write, but had no formal schooling. Rumph, nineteen years old and illiterate, was married to a woman named Fredie.24
Blue had been killed the prior spring by "a party of negroes," according to the Record. As often happened after black homicides of that era, a large number of African Americans were charged in the case. Indeed, on the same weekend that Blue was killed, seven African Americans—including thirty-two-year-old farmhand Will Miller—were charged in the death of another black man in Eufaula. Miller spent the summer in the Barbour County jail as well.25
Whatever evidence was presented against the various defendants was later lost, along with any record of their trials or whether the men had access to attorneys. By fall, though, all had been convicted and sentenced to varying terms of hard labor. Each of the accused murderers received between twenty years and life. Collins received six months’ hard labor; Denham got five months. No sentence was recorded for Marcia.
Emaciated and marked, the men's bodies told their own story. Miller was logged into state records as having "one good tooth on top," "shot through top of right shoulder," "badly burnt on back left leg." Demas stood five feet nine inches tall but weighed just 150 pounds. Scars were scattered across his frame—the biggest a six-inch gash stretching from above his left eye down the side of his face.26
In Henry County, the adjoining county to Barbour, Martin Danzy was a thirty-three-year-old sharecropper and a husband of nine years. He was arrested with another local black man in connection with a third man's death, though no records of the precise charge survived. On October 21, 1915, Danzy was sentenced to a term of twenty-five years at hard labor. The man arrested with him, Bud L. Clark, was sentenced to twenty years.27
Danzy was promptly sold to Henderson Land & Lumber Co., which put him to work in a turpentine harvesting camp near Tuscaloosa. Clark lasted just over two months at labor before pneumonia killed him. Danzy contracted pneumonia as well. Five months after his conviction, he too was dead.
Among the prisoners from Barbour County, Collins and Denham survived their terms of labor. Miller lived only a few months, until he died the following April in a Pratt Consolidated mine, at the hands of another convict. In November 1916, Rumph died of tuberculosis in a state prison hospital. Demas died the following month of pneumonia, at the Banner Mine. Daniels was killed July 27, 1917, while attempting to escape the Sloss mine at Flat Top.28
Years later, the authorized biography of Elbert H. Gary, the founding chairman of U.S. Steel, who ran the corporation from 1901 to 1927, quoted Gary as saying he was outraged when he learned that the mines he acquired in Alabama in 1907 were using slave labor. He said he ordered the executive just installed as president of Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad, George G. Crawford, to halt the practice immediately. Gary, namesake of the U.S. Steel-designed city of Gary, Indiana, was widely regarded among U.S. executives at the time as the national leader on progressive labor practices and business ethics. "Think of that!" Gary was quoted as saying. "I, an Abolitionist from childhood, at the head of a concern working negroes in a chain gang, with a state representative punishing them at the whipping post! Tear up that contract…I won't stand for it."29
Perhaps Gary believed he had in fact ended U.S. Steel's slaving practices. Alabama was far from Pittsburgh. But deep in the bowels of U.S. Steel's newly acquired mines, slaves remained at work. This new southern unit of the company held contracts guaranteeing thousands of forced workers from the state of Alabama for at least four more years. The reality of the southern economic situation was that even under the mandate of the most prominent and modern new corporate executive of the era, U.S. Steel was unwilling to simply cease the practice of slavery at its new subsidiary.
Shortly after U.S. Steel acquired Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad, rumors circulated in Alabama that the northern owners were unenthusias-tic about the convict system. In later testimony during an investigation into corruption in the state's convict leasing department, U.S. Steel executives said Judge Gary had indeed directed them to abandon convict leasing "as soon as possible" after the merger.
"Judge Gary said whether the hire of convicts was a good thing or a bad thing that he didn't care to be connected with the penal system of the State of Alabama," testified Walker Percy, a lawyer for Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad.30
But in correspondence between company executives and state officials, U.S. Steel made clear that despite the chairman's discomfort with the system, it realized the benefits of a captive workforce, particularly in thwarting efforts to unionize local labor. It was in no rush to give up the prisoners under its control.
In a letter to the state Board of Inspectors of Convicts in 1911, the president of TCI was unequivocal: "The chief inducement for the hiring of convicts was the certainty of a supply of coal for our manufacturing operations in the contingency of labor troubles."31
Instead of quickly ending its reliance on forced labor, as Judge Gary later claimed, U.S. Steel made modest improvements, primarily by raising health standards at the No. 12 mine. At the same time, it publicly praised Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad's past record of "humane and considerate treatment" of prisoners,32 and entered into new agreements to acquire more convicts from county sheriffs. In 1911, the number of deaths at U.S. Steel prison mines fell to eighteen.
But when Alabama officials began cutting the number of men supplied to U.S. Steel in the middle of that year—four years after Gary claimed he had ordered an end to slaving in his mines—the company protested forcefully. The company's general superintendent, Edward H. Coxe, wrote convict bureau president James Oakley to complain, "asking him for 30 or 40 more men." When the number of prisoners dwindled below three hundred later that summer, Coxe paid a personal visit to Oakley to demand more forced laborers.33
As the end of Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad's agreement with the state was approaching, the company told Alabama officials it wanted to begin negotiations to extend the contract for at least one more year. The state responded that it intended to lease all the convicts to the Banner Mine—ostensibly because Erskine Ramsey's company would pay more for them.
"I wish to enter a very vigorous protest against this action, as it is manifestly unfair to us to take the men from us," responded Coxe in a September 25, 1911, letter to the official in charge of convicts. "We are paying the State a great big price for these convicts, and it is certainly a hardship on us to deplete our organization."34
State officials, some of whom were receiving secret payments to help Ramsey's company, were unswayed. On January 1, 1912, the last remaining two hundred state convicts held at the Pratt Mines were marched out under guard and turned over to their new overseers to help replenish the ranks of forced laborers at the Banner Mine, decimated by the disaster less than a year earlier.
On December 13, 1912, a roaming labor agent for U.S. Steel sent out to hustle up as many workers as possible made a last stop at the Shelby County jail. Deputy Eddings no longer made regular deliveries to Birmingham. With all state prisoners in the Banner Mine, other companies sent out their own agents to local sheriffs to collect convicts and haul them back to the shafts. The man from Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad paid $103.50 to acquire one last lot of men. George Morris, William Garland, John Archie, J. W Walls, and John H. Huntley had all been arrested together on the crime that had supplied thousands of laborers to the company: "train riding."
There must have been some amazement that day in that all of the men purchased were white. It was likely the only instance in the company's thirty-year relationship with Shelby County sheriffs in which a shipment of men included no blacks. It would have been no surprise though that for the "crime" which thousands of African Americans were sent to the mines for months or years—and hundreds of whom died for it—these five white men received sentences of just ten days’ labor.35