Thursday, February 9, 2017


Parchman is Mississippi's state penitentiary. It was opened in 1901 in the delta and was built mostly by prisoner labor. Parchman became infamous in the delta as being a place where a man of color would end up if he was not careful. In its early days, it became the place for healthy, black prisoners to be sent and then exploited for their labor. In the 1960s, captured Freedom Riders were sent to Parchman. The guards were instructed to break their spirits, so the Freedom Riders were kept away from other inmates but not physically abused. The guards mocked them, and they were provided with very little in their cells.
The penitentiary has a musical tradition linked to the blues. The prisoners would often sing work songs much like the ones slaves used to sing. They would also sing spirituals. The male and female workers would sing duets together. Alan and John Lomax, two folklorists, studied these songs and hollers and visited Parchman multiple times to record them and interview the prisoners.

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