August 13 Miner’s Rise up Against Convict Lease Scheme

August 13, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1892.

That was the day miners in Tracy City, Tennessee rebelled against the state’s convict lease system.

Miners had been forced to work side by side with convict labor.

The convicts, overwhelmingly African-American, were forced to live in deplorable stockade conditions.

Their presence in the mines served to minimize paid labor, keep wages low and stunt union organizing throughout the state.

Miners demanded that Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad give them the same hours of work as the convicts. 

When they refused, the miners marched on the stockades where convicts were housed. 

They released the convicts and marched them onto trains bound for Nashville, burning the stockades to the ground. 

The revolt at Tracy City followed armed uprisings of thousands of miners the previous year in nearby Briceville and Coal Creek. 

Here it is thought that Knights of Labor leaders led miners to surround stockades, disarm guards, and release convicts onto Knoxville bound trains over the course of several days. 

By August 1892, hundreds of miners would confront state forces in armed shootouts across Grundy, Marion and Anderson counties, releasing convicts when they could onto trains bound for Nashville. 

Miners were eventually arrested and convicted. 

But these revolts would lead the Tennessee General Assembly to end its convict lease system four years later, making it one of the first Southern states to do so.

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