The History of the Chattahoochee Brick Company

Convict Leasing

A form of slavery which continued into the 1900s (and arguably later)

In 1865, the 13th amendment to the US Constitution was passed and officially abolished slavery throughout the United States, but came with a key exception. According to the amendment, slavery was illegal unless as punishment for a crime, which gave prisons legal basis to continue using slave labor. Especially in cases such as the Chattahoochee Brick Company (CBC), many individuals were arrested for petty crimes such as vagrancy (Homelessness) and sent to work at prison labor camps.

These "criminals" would be bought and sold just like slaves. However, unlike slaves, many prisons would not hesitate to work the men until they died or were permanently disabled because it was in their best interest to work convicts as hard as possible. These convicts seldom served their whole sentence, and many who did were not able to continue living as a functioning member of society.

And it Continued...

Convict labor was finally outlawed, but not ended in 1908 when the public began to learn of the horrible conditions that these men were working with. Throughout the early 1900's, many brickyards like the CBC continued to use convict labor while others would murder and hide the bodies of many laborers just so that authorities didn't find out.

Even today, prisons will work their laborers for very little or even no pay, especially in maintenance jobs such as cleaning positions and janitorial jobs. The countrywide average for laborers working these jobs still floats between 10 to 80 cents per hour.


The Chattahoochee Brick Company was a very important, yet horrific part of Atlanta's history. Owned by the one-time Atlanta mayor and police chief, Captain James English, the site housed hundreds of convicts and forced them to work in deplorable, and often fatal conditions. These convicts would be fed rancid food, beaten, and forced to work at a constant running pace. Some records account that up to 300 convicts were flogged each month, with each flogging likely leaving the prisoner disfigured if not mortally wounded.

When a convict could no longer work at the expected capacity, he would often times be sold off or disposed of in the brick kilns.

James English however, denied that the conditions at his company were that bad, claiming that he would fire guards on the spot if they were seen mistreating a prisoner. However, with how many accounts of guards beating or even killing the men for their own enjoyment, English likely knew what was happening. Even after the CBC ended its operations, English would only admit as much as that the working conditions were tough.

Due to the large amount of secrecy behind the conditions at the CBC, not much is known besides what has been recorded by the guards and the few prisoners who were capable of writing letters.

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