GHOSTS OF LONE ROCK
A documentary in production by EQB Films, fiscally sponsored by
Black in Appalachia.
There was a vast fortune to be made in the years after the Civil War from the untapped coal veins of eastern Tennessee, and all that was needed to extract it was cheap source of labor. The owners of Tennessee Coal and Iron Company (TCI) worked with the state legislature to introduce the convict leasing system, in which the company would house convicts (mostly African-American) at its private “branch” prisons and force them to work in the mines virtually for free. In fact, if a convict died, the company simply had the penitentiary send them another one. An added benefit for the company was the control this system allowed them to exert over free working-class population. TCI’s founder himself referred to convict leasing as “an effective club to hold over the heads of free laborers.” In the early 1890s, a furious set of wars broke out between the free miners and the company owners, as stockades were burnt to the ground, and convicts made their escape. The Lone Rock Stockade in Tracy City was the largest of these private prisons, and its story—one of great misery for many, and great profit for others—has not been told. Until now.