Male Prisoners Hoeing a Field

This is a photo of inmates at the Mississippi State Penitentiary circa WWI.
Grade Level

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 8. 

Male prisoners and field
This text is in the public domain. Retrieved from http://www.mdah.ms.gov/arrec/digital_archives/series/parchman/detail/22823.
Text Dependent Questions
  1. Question
    What are the men in the photograph doing? What do you notice about their environment? What are they wearing?
    The men in the photograph have hoes in their hands and are working the soil. The environment looks deforested and agricultural. They are wearing striped prison garb and are prisoners at Mississippi’s Parchman Penal Farm.
  2. Question
    What do you notice about the number of men in the photograph and the demographics they might represent in 20th-century Mississippi?
    The men all appear to be African American and this shows a disproportional imprisonment of African-American men in 20th-century Mississippi.
  3. Question
    What do you notice about the men’s field equipment? Why might they all be in the exact same position? Are they posing for the photograph, or is their work somehow synchronized?
    The men do not look to be posing, but their positions do all look synchronized. Many African-American forced laborers in the South used rhythm and music to help synchronize their work in order to survive harsh working conditions.
  4. Question
    Given the context of Parchman Farm, what can you speculate these men’s lives were like? Why are they all collected here together, and how does it relate to the history of race and slavery in the United States?
    In the context of Jim Crow America, one can speculate that these men faced racist policing practices, disproportionate prison sentences and forced labor in the hot Mississippi climate. It shows continuity between slavery and the postbellum era in the United States.
Reveal Answers