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One of the last words of advice we got from Jim Dickinson was "Get less accurate tuners" - Jimbo Mathus, South Memphis String Band, at Music in the Hall

Author Topic: Parchman Farm Book  (Read 1930 times)

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Offline DanceGypsy

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Parchman Farm Book
« on: May 27, 2010, 08:13:24 AM »
"Worse Than Slavery" Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice
by David M. Oshinsky
New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 1997

I ordered this book on the cheap from Amazon, hoping it would help flesh out some of my research in the roots of the blues, and though I am only 50 pages into it I feel that I must highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning the whole history behind the most famous prison to appear in blues lyrics through the years.

Parchman was (and is) the Mississippi State Penitentiary, and I believe it has been named in blues lyrics more than any other specific prison.  Bukka White served time there, as did many, many other Delta bluesmen.  Oshinsky's book has a photo of Bukka and reprints a good number of blues lyrics and work songs.  I'll write more when I finish reading.  I did a search and I couldn't find where this book was mentioned elsewhere in the forum - has anybody else read this book?
« Last Edit: May 27, 2010, 08:14:30 AM by DanceGypsy »

Offline maddoggirl

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2010, 11:45:04 AM »
I've read it, and gone back through it many times since - a wonderful book: steeped in assured scholarship, vividly written and extremely elucidating about some quiet evils which stained American history. Oshinsky's interest in the blues seems to me to be largely socio-historical, which suits me fine, and the placing of prison and work songs in such a rich historical context is very satisfying.

Highly, highly recommended, not particularly for its blues analysis, a lot of which has already been done elsewhere, but for the tremendously tangible picture Oshinsky paints of Black life on the wrong side of the law from Reconstruction to Civil Rights.
rambling about movies, from 1930 on up at http://resilientlittlemuscle.blogspot.com/

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2010, 12:35:58 PM »
Thanks for the recommendation.
Now I've got to spend more money  ::)

Offline Richard

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2010, 02:13:19 PM »
I've just ordered as well, I haven't seen anything on the subject before.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Richard

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2010, 11:00:51 AM »
I've just returned from a couple of weeks in foreign climes and had taken this book for a little light reading. Wrong!

There is nothing of any interest regarding the blues other than a few guest names of who visited Parchman. However, what was of interest was that it totally shattered my rose tinted specacles and my assumed view of the South, in fact it should almost be required reading as to how the coloured population were treated well into the seventies.
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Stuart

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2010, 12:57:53 PM »
I checked it out of the local library and have only had a chance to get a short way into it--but so far it's an engaging read. As for anyone who has ever entertained the fantasy that doing a stint in Parchman would somehow enhance your Blues cred, get over it. You probably wouldn't last long enough to sing about it.

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2010, 01:26:36 PM »
I've just returned from a couple of weeks in foreign climes and had taken this book for a little light reading. Wrong!

There is nothing of any interest regarding the blues other than a few guest names of who visited Parchman. However, what was of interest was that it totally shattered my rose tinted specacles and my assumed view of the South, in fact it should almost be required reading as to how the coloured population were treated well into the seventies.
Seconded. I just finished reading it yesterday.
Suffice it to say that I have been stunned and shocked by the sheer depths of cruelty.
Let's just hope nobody in our new "Progressive" Con-Dem administration hear about this book, it would just give them ideas.

Offline DanceGypsy

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #7 on: July 07, 2010, 02:40:39 PM »
There is nothing of any interest regarding the blues other than a few guest names of who visited Parchman.

The first time I read the above sentence I let it slide, but then I saw it quoted and seconded later in the thread and I've just got to say that I found an enormous amount of information - interesting information, at that - related to the blues in this book.  No, the book does not speak at length about the guitars bluesmen played, or dissect the songs nor even interview bluesmen who served time at Parchman, but the book does go a long way toward fleshing out why black Americans in the South were so blue to begin with.  The country blues that we Weenies know and love were born, played and recorded well after slavery had ended in this country.  Why then are blacks so blue in the 1920's and 30's?  This book has chapters on Jim Crow and Southern justice, and another chapter on prison farms in the South other than Parchman, and when you read these chapters and learn about how when labor was scarce more black men were rounded up and sent out to the camps, almost always on trumped up or otherwise rarely enforced charges, you hear the echo of these practices in the lyrics of countless blues songs.

I'm sure that the author of the above post simply meant that there wasn't much that specifically referenced blues music or musicians in the book, but I just wanted to call out that there is a wealth of material in this book that relates to the blues experience and the cultural atmosphere that formed this music.

Offline Richard

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2010, 03:12:40 PM »
DG

Yes, I was trying to make the point out that other than a few personal references, odd lyrics of work songs and the like this is not a book about the blues per se, so don't expect to find a chapter on Bukka White or Son House. It is, I suppose a dreadful indictment of the way coloured people lived and were treated not that long ago. I couldn't help making a mental comparison with what was happening in England around same period, which frankly made it sound all the more barbaric.
   
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Stumblin

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2010, 03:48:41 PM »
I couldn't help making a mental comparison with what was happening in England around same period 
Please elaborate on that point, for the benefit of the hard-of-understanding, like po' me.
This is a subject area that I find highly compelling.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Parchman Farm Book
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2010, 03:49:53 PM »
I finished the book yesterday. I highly recommend it as it's a well written history. Nothing happens in a vacuum and the book gives good insights into the social and cultural context in which people lived--even if they never were associated with the penal system or played music. A few things are unbelievable to the point that they read like a sick joke from a dark comedy, such as the portable electric chair (in operation from 1940-1955) and the statement that, "The execution drew rave reviews." (p.206) I could go on about the injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity recounted by the author, but I think that its best if you read it for yourself.

Edited to add the following links about the author:

http://www.oah.org/activities/lectureship/2009/lecturer.php?id=393

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Oshinsky
« Last Edit: July 12, 2010, 04:07:41 PM by Stuart »

 


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