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Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice

4.21  ·  Rating Details  ·  429 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
Prisons in the deep South, with chain gangs, shotguns, and bloodhounds, have been immortalized in movies, blues music, and fiction. Mississippi's Parchman State Penitentiary was the grandfather of them all, a hellhole where conditions were brutal. This epic history fills the gap between slavery and the civil rights era, showing how Parchman and Jim Crow justice proved that ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published April 22nd 1997 by Free Press (first published April 4th 1996)
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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyThe Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne1984 by George OrwellThe Strange Career of Jim Crow by C. Vann WoodwardThe Crucible by Arthur Miller
Witch Hunts
97th out of 107 books — 21 voters
The New Jim Crow by Michelle AlexanderAre Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. DavisNewjack by Ted ConoverGolden Gulag by Ruth Wilson GilmoreArrested Justice by Beth E. Richie
Prison History & Theory
33rd out of 70 books — 19 voters

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Community Reviews

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M. Lee
Aug 25, 2008 M. Lee rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any reader interested in this country's history
Shelves: nonfiction
Yes, it's about the Jim Crow south. Yes, it's about Parchman Prison Farm in Mississippi. But it is also about systemized human depravity and what happens when a group of people has no power while a different group has absolute power. Before the Civil War, slaves were valuable property. After the War, the freed slaves were a means for the state to make money while working them like slaves while they were prisoners. Blacks were arrested for the smallest of reasons and sometimes for no reason, depe ...more
Jun 19, 2009 Wilhelmina rated it it was amazing
You will think this book is fiction.
Sean Sullivan
Sep 17, 2007 Sean Sullivan rated it liked it
Shelves: history, ushistory
This book is a must read on the Jim Crow era. When I was reading it, there were times I felt sick to my stomach. Oshinky lays out the horror and despicable racism of the Jim Crow South better than any other author I have read. Worse Than Slavery focuses on the infamous Parchman Farm, a prison farm in Mississippi. Parchman was work camp you were lucky to survive and the stories of how people got there, why the farm was useful for the Mississippi government and what the experience of life on the f ...more
Aug 30, 2015 Anthoferjea rated it really liked it
The key link in arguments to make to people who think that slavery and its caste system ever really ended in America. The use of racialized stereotypes in law enforcement as way to prevent blacks Americans from being fully employed or self-employed has a history that starts right after the civil war and continues until today. The creation of segregated impoverished communities and the indifference white culture has to black on black crime inside these communities is also the same.
The ending seem
Oshinksy's bold title does not go unsupported in this wrenching tale of a Mississippi plantation prison: Parchman.

The book takes an in depth look at the horrors of a racial caste system supported by the criminal legal system in the aftermath of emancipation. In the deep south, the freedom of slaves was hardly celebrated. Yet, ardent politicians, businessmen, and local sheriffs seemed to find a way to ensure that nothing changed. Or if it did, it changed for the worse. Violence and racial politic
May 07, 2013 Andrew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
There are few books that have stirred my imagination and emotions more than this book. I've driven by Parchman numerous times, and drive past many of the fields, towns, and markers where this book takes place. The bloody history of the land that I live in strips away the fabrications we tie up in our history. This book really serves as a razor that clips away the preconceived notions we have of America, North and South, before 1950. The 19th century in America seems to be one of the most brutal ...more
Oct 12, 2008 Algernon rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This little book took me by surprise. It addresses not only the Mississippi's infamous penal farm, which essentially modified and extended slavery into the twentieth century, but also examines the evolution of justice and penology in Mississippi from the Civil War to the present.

Oshinsky conveys this using the kind of anecdotal detail that makes for a gripping historical novel. Very good indeed.

I always find it odd when a book like this as a section of photos in the middle of the book, but the t
Jan 28, 2009 Eric rated it liked it
This book reminded me of "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." It wasn't quite as good or as moving, but it was equally dumbfounding. Nothing but example after example of how cruel and unforgiving our supposedly free and equal society can be to a group of people for a completely arbitrary reason. The descriptions of the lynchings and prison conditions and ordeals were all disturbing, but what was most disturbing was that so many individual people had the exact same experience. Another book that sort ...more
Mar 16, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it
A book about the evolution of the Mississippi penal system post Civil War. Though the book does discuss Parchman Farm quite a bit, it more or less covers the general state of Mississippi race relations and the so called "justice" system in the late 1800's to mid 1900's. You'll learn quite a few unpleasant things. A good book but not a pretty subject. It will teach those that don't already know how difficult the road from slavery to society was for many African Americans. A lesson I think a lot o ...more
Jennifer Elaine Davis
Apr 04, 2007 Jennifer Elaine Davis rated it it was amazing
Mississippi's Parchman State Penitentary is the stuff of legend for criminal justice majors. This book clearly illustrates the brutality of this prison as merely a symptom of larger issues of race and punishment in the American South. I read this for a graduate class several years, and it has become one of those books that I turn to again and again.
Sep 20, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it
In 2015, Ta-Nehisi Coates published his Atlantic cover story "The Case for Reparations," which authoritatively documents institutional racism in the United States. The most important part was probably the article's description of how racism continued after the end of slavery into the current day—throughout the United States.

This book is an important and damning look at one piece of that story. The author, a historian, finds a good balance between readability and academic documentation to show ho
May 26, 2016 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Exceptional account of the forms of slavery that persisted well after formal emancipation in 1865. Oshinsky provides a detailed window into convict leasing, penal farms and penitentiary systems that employed black men and women to do labor for private companies and for the state. The central thesis is that these various systems, or mutations of slavery, were in fact worse than slavery in many ways. In putting this concept forward, Oshinsky debunks the myth that slavery ended and equality was ach ...more
Aug 06, 2011 Corin rated it it was amazing
While others have written excellent reviews on the impact that this compelling book has made on them, I'd like to contribute from a slightly different angle. Just prior to this book I had been reading _The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic_. The similarity between the two struck me, as the one uses Parchman Farm in MS to illustrate the horrors of a penal system gone wild and the other uses Willard Psychiatric Center in upstate NY in a like manner to describe the flaws ...more
Nov 23, 2011 Lauren rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, college
Oshinsky wrote this book to show readers the intense horror of prisons and convict life in the Jim Crow era, especially at Parchman Farm. The book is like a one of those fun textbooks (if you believe they exist). Its tone and writing style is scholarly, but nevertheless relaxed and readable. Some people complain that Oshinsky is annoying because he's so snarky, but I didn't have a problem with it, considering the infuriating subject topic. It’s chock full of facts and reliable sources—you don’t ...more
Aug 19, 2012 Larry rated it really liked it
The subtitle of this book mentions Parchman Farm, which the book definitely covers, but only for the last half and only as the extreme example of the Jim Crow "justice". And while the main title refers to the treatment that blacks have suffered in the South since the Civil War, one can still imagine someone debating the title on being accurate or not. After all, is anything worse than slavery? I would hold that the author does a very credible job of proving that yes, there definitely is somethin ...more
Apr 19, 2015 Kim rated it it was amazing
This book was phenomenal in that what is hidden from the public - and justified as the people therein not being worthy of consideration- is very telling, given American history.

How you treat those imprisoned is a reflection of what our society is/will become. You can't lock everyone up forever and expect those who will eventually be released to blend into society as if nothing happened. There is/will be a price to pay? Are we ready?
May 15, 2014 Antony rated it it was amazing
This book is chilling, but an important history to remember. If this was ever to be turned into a movie, it would be harder to watch than "12 Years A Slave" - which possibly justifies the title. Parchman Farm was/is a sprawling prison in an isolated part of Mississippi. It had no fences. And in Jim Crow era Mississippi it was a massive labour camp where prisoners had short life spans, and inmates were given incentives to turn on each other.
Penny Johnston
Apr 29, 2016 Penny Johnston rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I was intrigued by this book because I knew a psychologist that worked at Parchman Farm in the 1960s-1970s era. The history that went on in Southern prisons in the mid 1900s is hardly spoken of but is in so many songs that we know. "House of the Rising Sun," is an example of music from a Southern prison and reading this book helps to make sense of it. The means of discipline that were used in this prison will shock you.
Oct 03, 2014 Danielle rated it it was amazing
Wow. 5 stars because it will probably be one of those books I won't be able to forget. I knew things had been bad in the south. This is not the first book I've read about it, but I was again amazed at how so called rational human beings could behave. I know people are still racist today, but it seems to not be as boldly talked and written about. I am amazed at some of the things that went on. Some of the things that were said. How they were so widely accepted and believed when it seems common se ...more
Dec 02, 2014 Katie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: love, school-books
"Worse Than Slavery was a gripping but difficult novel for me. The sheer brutality in the treatment of people, and the despair that came post-Civil War catches me off-guard when I stop to really think about it and try to grasp. Being able to plunge myself into late 19th/early 20th century makes me feel like I have a better handle on this information, and as I continue to learn and seek out knowledge my ability to take in all of the hardship and the horror will improve as well. David Oshinky pres ...more
Telly Ree
Jun 16, 2015 Telly Ree rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting read. The book focuses more on racist vigilante justice in the state of Mississippi following the Reconstruction era more so than the Parchman Farm. Oshinsky does not go into depth about Parchman until page 140 or so, but his exploration of the prison and its way of life is condensed into a well detailed description in only 100 pages. Oshinsky, directly quotes his primary sources, so the reader is reading mainly quotes with snippets the authors smarty take on the actions of hist ...more
Glenn Banks
Apr 07, 2015 Glenn Banks rated it it was amazing
This makes me grateful for not being majority of African decent (mother has very small east African ~1% according to DNA test). There have been significant improvements in the way people have been treated in this country and in certain states specifically. I am happy that the trend it for improvement.
Aug 12, 2016 Toby rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
It was fitting, immediately upon completion of this book, to pick up 'Between the World and Me' by Te Nehisi Coates. Because his paradigm, that this is the ugly process of whites LEARNING to be white, might best explain this book. And, perhaps, many others.
Feb 09, 2016 Joanna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-school
This book could provide a huge missing puzzle piece for those who cannot understand how slavery and Jim Crow still affect American race relations today.

It was a book that made me sit back in pure horror and disbelief and think "I just cannot believe that this actually happened, I cannot believe that this happened in our country."

But it did.
W Keith
Mar 31, 2015 W Keith rated it really liked it
Eye-opening and gut-wrenching history of my home state's penal system after the end of the Civil War. Excellent research and narrative, although a bit like reading Faulkner in my opinion: it will have a totally different meaning for those who are currently or formerly of the fabric of Mississippi. It will be incredibly infuriating/depressing to those unfamiliar with the culture, it will potentially enlighten and sadden those of the culture. I passed this book on to my father, a socially conserva ...more
Virginia Kostmayer
Feb 16, 2016 Virginia Kostmayer rated it really liked it
I can't say I enjoyed this book because it's painful to read such horrible stories about how blacks were treated during slavery and after slavery. It's hard to believe white people really believed in their behavior and got away with it. It's an important read though because the ramifications of post civil war are still evident today.
Worse Than Slavery by David Oshinsky, a hardcover library book I began reading the first week of September for Corrections & Punishment class.

Being new to the whole criminal justice branch of my liberal arts classes, this was my first foray into really reading prison-related texts and clinical results.
Dan Sharber
worse than slavery is a really hard claim to make. however convict leasing appears to actually have been worse than slavery in some ways. very good book on a hellish place in a hellish state that fought tooth and nail to preserve its racial privilegies. mississippi godamn, indeed.
Kristie Saumure
Dec 18, 2015 Kristie Saumure rated it liked it
Shelves: top
This book was very well written and researched, but I found it incredibly difficult to read. It felt like race relations in the South never really improved - things may have changed, but things seemed to just change from one type of horrible to another.
Andy Anderson
Feb 03, 2012 Andy Anderson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Parchman Farms. A dark history of Mississippi. The brutality and sadness is very moving and hard to believe this was only starting to change in the early 70's. A great book on the old South "caste" system.
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