A Spectacle of Shame
Black-and-white photograph of convicts in distinctive black-and-white striped uniforms as they work in a field in Dallas, Georgia, during the 1930s or 1940s.
Courtesy of Georgia State University. Libraries, Tracy O'Neal Photographic Collection, 1923-1975.
Black prisoners wearing black-and-white striped uniforms dig a ditch in South Carolina in 1929.
Courtesy of Atlanta History Center, Southline Press, Inc. Photographs.
Newspaper article about the awarding of a contract to Manly Jail Works to build steel cages and other iron work for a Dade County jail expansion. Dade County Sentinel, July 26, 1907, p. 2.
Courtesy of Georgia Newspaper Project, Georgia Historic Newspapers.
Under both the convict lease system and the chain gang system, male prisoners wore striped shirts and trousers; female prisoners wore striped dresses. In Georgia, these uniforms were sometimes called “Georgia stripes.” Dressed in these uniforms at all times, convicts were made to bear the stigma of incarceration. Prisoners were also confined by restraint devices like the ball and chain and “prisoner picks,” a contraption intended to keep prisoners from running away by limiting leg movement.
Inmates on the chain gang were transported in overcrowded cages from county to county, where they worked grading roads from sunup until sundown. Once they reached the work site, temporary convict camps called “cage camps” or “road camps” would be set up. A foremost leader in transportation cars for prisoners was Manly Jail Works in Dalton. Convict cages were used as makeshift prison cells. These accommodations packed twelve inmates into spaces of about 15 feet long by 7 feet wide. Prisoners were sometimes housed in tents called “cheap shacks.”