The Louisiana State Penitentiary nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the South” is the largest maximum security prison in the country. Six thousand, three hundred men, 80 per cent of whom are black are held there. Before the Civil War, the prison property was known as the Angola Plantations and was owned by Isaac Franklin, who at the time owned the largest slave trading firm (Franklin & Armfield) in the United States. The prison grounds occupy a 28-square-mile area. To put that in perspective, the prison property covers an area larger than Manhattan (22.8 sq miles).
Angola’s origins as a prison date back to 1880. Then the state awarded the lease of Louisiana State Penitentiary and all of its convicts to a former Confederate Army officer, Samuel L. James. James purchased several plantations across Louisiana, in addition to the Angola Plantation. Inmates were housed in the old slave quarters and worked on his plantations. The majority of black inmates, however, were subleased to landowners to replace their emancipated slaves. They were leased to businesses to build levees, dig railroad tunnels, build roads, reclaim lowlands, and harvest crops. White inmates, seen as more intellectual, were given clerk and craftsmanship work.
Under this private prison system, profit was the main concern. Humane treatment of prisoners and accountability to the state of Louisiana were ignored. In many instances, inmates suffered worse abuse under the convict lease arrangements than under the now abolished slavery system. As a result, a constitutional ban of convict leasing was successfully adopted in 1898. The State of Louisiana purchased the prison camp from the James family in 1900 and assumed operational control in 1901. Thus, began state control of Angola prison.
Presently, Angola has numerous enterprises. They include a license tag plant, printing services, and a mattress factory. Inmates cultivate, harvest, and process a variety of crops, making the facility self-supporting. Each year, the prison produces four million pounds of vegetable crops including cabbage, corn, cotton, strawberries, okra, onions, peppers, soybeans, squash, tomatoes, and wheat. The facility also has approximately 2,000 head of cattle, and some of the herd is sold at local markets for beef. Inmates also breed and train the horses used at Angola for field work. The prison is known for its professional rodeo which is held one weekend every April, and every Sunday in October. Inmates are allowed to participate in the events. The Angola prison rodeo is open to the general public and attracts 10,000 spectators annually.
At one time, 68 per cent of Angola’s inmate population were serving life sentences. Consequently, a large portion of its prison population consists of elderly inmates. In 2015 a class-action lawsuit (Lewis vs. Cain) was filed stating that inadequate inmate medical care is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment”. According to the lawsuit, the Louisiana Department of Corrections (LADOC) neglected the serious medical needs of people incarcerated there. The lawsuit further claims that Angola is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, by not addressing the mobility issues of inmates who are physically unable to access parts of the prison. As of this writing, the two parties have not reached an agreement.
Alexis White attended cyber camps as a child at the Air Force where her mother was stationed. It was there that she picked interest in cybersecurity. A few years down the line, White has made history in the state of Louisiana as the first person ever to earn a degree in cybersecurity.
“My journey was not easy, but it was achievable,” White said, according to WLBT. “If you can get yourself to think positively, keep going no matter the opposition, and just do it, it can be done.”
White initially enrolled into Grambling State University’s biology program even though when she was in Ruston high school, she was part of the robotics team. Even in their freshman year at Grambling, she participated in Louisiana’s Tech’s Cyber Security Camp.
The university introduced its cybersecurity program along the line and knowing she had an interest in the field, White dared to transfer her major from biology unto the program knowing very well she would have to do twice the work if she intended on graduating.
According to the school’s website, the Grambling State Department of Cybersecurity offers “comprehensive undergraduate level training…[tackling] cyber-related endangers, [raising] the awareness of digital data security, and promoting responsible citizenship in a changing world.”
Her professors have been full of praises for her especially since she crammed the course in and graduated in two years. “Even though she transferred to this department, she worked hard and had internships in a lot of other places. She participated in many programs and actually took many of my classes. So, she’s graduating, I think we are proud of her for being the first graduate,” said Dr. Yenumula Reddy, Cybersecurity Professor at GSU.
The STEM lover put all her energy into her new program and went on work placements while on the program. She is yet to complete her Clinton Global Initiative internship classwork, which she nearly missed because of her grandmother’s ailment.
On the day of the interview for an apprenticeship as a cyber-analyst in governance risk and compliance at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, White was contemplating on canceling but decided to go and hopefully make her grandmother and family proud. She got the internship but got home to the sad news that her nan had passed away.
“So, the next day she actually passed away. So I didn’t get a chance to tell her but she knew what I was doing, and so after that, I got the email saying that I had gotten the position, the cybersecurity position with governance, risk, and compliance. So just to say, I am so happy that I was able to get that position and to make my family proud,” White told reporters.
Andrew Fusaiotti, as part of his routine calls to the cook of his former fraternity house, found out that the cook had not retired and was still working two jobs to pay off her mortgage. The former Louisiana State University fraternity brother then rallied 91 of his fraternity brothers (the Phi Gamma Delta brothers) to help pay off their cook’s mortgage as a birthday present and a testament to the love they have for her.
“They were my kids. They still are,” Jessie Hamilton of Phi Gamma Delta, also known as Fiji, told the Washington Post. “They used to tell me they loved me, and now, they’ve proved it.”
Hamilton received a check for $51,765 on April 3 as part of her 74th birthday celebrations in front of her Baton Rouge home. She was in awe of the turn-up and love from her boys whom she did not only feed but mothered during their stay in the Fiji frat house.
“That shows how they all felt about her,” Fusaiotti, who was a member of the frat back in the eighties, told The Advocate. “Jessie is one of these people that shows up to work and always has a smile on her face, eager to please and never complains.”
Hamilton worked in the Fiji house for 14 years from 1982 to 1996. During that time, she would be the first person to arrive at the house to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the boys all the while going above and beyond for them. Some say she never allowed any boy to go hungry and would save food for those who missed their mealtime. Additionally, she served as a mother figure and counselor for the boys who needed a listening ear and would drive some of them for grocery shopping or to their doctors’ appointments.
“I enjoyed doing it. They loved my cooking,” she told the Post. “I was always there to talk things through with them. They’d come in the kitchen and sit on top of the counter and tell me their problems.”
So when Fusaiotti, now 52, heard she still worked at the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport and as a cook at a country club, he decided to set up a fundraiser for Hamilton. Each of the 91 Fiji brothers contributed an average of $560, according to the Post.
Hamilton had serviced her 30-year mortgage for 14 years and needed $45,000 to fully offset the debt. The Fiji boys made it happen and even outdid themselves by raising $6,000 more, which they gave to her as a check on her birthday or what they now refer to as ‘World Hamilton Day.’
She was truly overwhelmed and humbled by the boys’ generosity. “This has been a blessing to me,” stated Hamilton. “I have been worrying about how I was going to pay my house off. I am grateful for what God has done and has led them to do for me.”
A Louisiana man who tried downplaying the seriousness of the recent Gorilla Glue incident involving Tessica Brown and her hair ended up learning the hard way after he was hospitalized for using the same permanent adhesive to stick a plastic cup to his mouth.
Brown went viral on social media when she posted a video sharing her ordeal after using the heavy-duty glue to hold down her hair – causing it to be stiff for about a month despite numerous attempts to get it off.
In an interview, Len Martin said he attempted creating the challenge – despite the company reiterating the product isn’t meant to be applied on the skin or hair – to prove Brown exaggerated the severity of the incident.
“I thought she was just playing around; I didn’t think it was that serious,” Martin said. “All these challenges going on, I thought, ‘I’ma go ahead and try it.’ And it went backwards.”
In the video on Instagram, Martin is seen applying the glue on the inner tip of a red plastic cup and going ahead to put it in his mouth to prove he can simply prevent the cup from sticking by licking it off. It, however, backfired and he ended up going to the ER to have the stuck cup removed. He described the medical procedure to remove the cup from his mouth as a “painful peeling.”
Martin also told the news outlet he was informed that if the wound doesn’t properly heal, he’ll have to undergo surgery to remove the tip of his lip. “This is not the challenge you want to try. Do not try this,” he warned.
Per the product description, the multi-purpose glue bonds materials including wood, metal, fabric, plastic, glass, among others. Its warning label also explicitly states it’s not meant to be swallowed or applied on the skin, eyes or clothing.
Martin is notoriously known for taking part in viral and bizarre challenges, including the “ice cream challenge” where people videoed themselves licking ice cream on sale at stores before putting them back in the freezers. In an interview on The Dr. Oz Show in 2020, Martin spoke about the repercussions he faced for participating in that challenge and said he does not want to send a bad impression by doing such things, reported.
In 1887, African-American cane workers in Louisiana attempted to organize—and many paid with their lives
On November 23, 1887, a mass shooting of African-American farm workers in Louisiana left some 60 dead. Bodies were dumped in unmarked graves while the white press cheered a victory against a fledgling black union. It was one of the bloodiest days in United States labor history, and while statues went up and public places were named for some of those involved, there is no marker of the Thibodaux Massacre.
Days after, a local planter widow Mary Pugh wrote, “I think this will settle the question of who is to rule the nigger or the white man for the next fifty years.” It was a far-sighted comment— black farm workers in the South wouldn’t have the opportunity to unionize for generations.
Years after the Thirteenth Amendment brought freedom, cane cutters’ working lives were already “barely distinguishable” from slavery, argues journalist and author John DeSantis. (His book, The Thibodaux Massacre: Racial Violence and the 1887 Sugar Cane Labor Strike, is an excellent and compelling account of the massacre.) With no land to own or rent, workers and their families lived in old slave cabins. They toiled in gangs, just like their ancestors had for nearly a century. Growers gave workers meals but paid famine wages of as little as 42 cents a day (91 cents per hour in today’s money, for a 12-hour shift).
Instead of cash, workers got scrip that bought basics at high prices at plantation stores.
But they had advantages that their counterparts in cotton areas lacked. Planters needed their labor, and growers living on thin margins failed to attract migrant laborers to replace local workers, especially in the crucial rolling season when the sugarcane needed to be cut and pressed in short order.
In the sugar parishes arcing through the southern part of the state from Berwick Bay to the Mississippi River, African-American men voted. The Republican Party, which supported black civil rights, was stronger in sugar country than anywhere else in the state. By the late 1860s, African-Americans became legislators or sheriffs, and black volunteer militias drilled, despite living and working conditions still bearing the marks of slavery.
In 1874, nine years after slavery ended in the United States, cane cutters demanded a second emancipation. They wanted a living wage, or at least the chance to rent on shares. Planters wanted to cut wages after the lean harvest of 1873-74 coincided with an economic recession, and while Louisiana growers produced 95 percent of the nation’s domestic sugar and molasses, they were losing market share to cheaper foreign sugars.
Sensing they were in a strong bargaining position, workers banded together in several sugar parishes, including St. Mary, Iberia, Terrebonne, and Lafourche, demanding cash wages of $1.25 per day, or $1.00 if meals were included.
But the growers refused, upset that African-American workers were demanding an end to their paternalistic work regime. So African-American leaders like Hamp Keys, a former Terrebonne Parish legislator, called a strike.
Keys led a march from Houma to Southdown Plantation in Terrebonne, rallying workers with a fiery speech. The sight of black protesters riled growers, and acting with their interests in mind, the parish’s African-American sheriff formed a posse of whites to face down strikers. Surprised at the opposition, Keys’s marchers retreated.
In the state capital of New Orleans (relocated to Baton Rouge in 1882), Republican Governor William Pitt Kellogg also backed growers. But he was under siege from the Louisiana White League, a paramilitary white supremacist group formed in 1874 to intimidate Republicans and keep African-Americans from voting. Despite Kellogg’s being a pro-growth moderate who favored low taxes, White Leaguers tried to oust him in a violent coup. The Battle of Liberty Place, as it was called, pitted white militiamen against federal troops and metropolitan police. Governor Kellogg was temporarily forced out of New Orleans. He returned under guard but would be Louisiana’s last Republican governor for more than 100 years.
America was retreating from Republican-led Reconstruction and abandoning civil rights. African-Americans in sugar regions kept the right to vote, but their influence in state elections was waning. As W. E. B. Du Bois put it in Black Reconstruction in America, “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again into slavery.”
Sugar workers attempted another strike in 1880, and both growers and workers resorted to sporadic violence. But time was on the growers’ side. African-Americans were being disarmed and thrown out of office, and some were leased out to hard labor for petty and trumped-up crimes. With few options available by 1887, Terrebonne sugar workers reached out to the Knights of Labor.
The Knights was the biggest and most powerful union in America. It began organizing African-American workers in 1883 in separate locals (a local is a bargaining unit of a broader union). Despite segregation, the Knights organized women and farm workers. And it made strides against Jim Crow. At the Knights’ 1886 national convention in Richmond, Virginia, leaders risked violence by insisting that a black delegate introduce Virginia’s segregationist governor.
Across the states of the former Confederacy, whites viewed organized labor as agitation that threatened the emerging Jim Crow order. Even in the North and Midwest, the Knights fought an uphill battle against authorities who sided with railroad and mine owners. Several states called out militias to break strikes during the late nineteenth century, but the Knights was at its peak of popularity in the 1880s.
In Louisiana, the Knights organized sugar workers into seven locals of 100 to 150 members each. Hamp Keys joined former black leaders like ex-sheriff William Kennedy. In August of 1887, the Knights met with the St. Mary branch of the Louisiana Sugar Planters Association asking for improved wages. And again the growers refused.
So the Knights raised the stakes in October of 1887 as the rolling season approached. Junius Bailey, a 29-year-old schoolteacher, served as local president in Terrebonne. His office sent a communique all over the region asking for $1.25 a day cash wages, and local workers’ committees followed up, going directly to growers with the same demand.
But instead of bargaining, growers fired union members. Planters like future Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Douglass White kicked workers off the land, ordering any who stayed arrested. Siding with growers, Democratic newspapers circulated false reports of black-on-white violence. “The most vicious and unruly set of negroes,” were at the Rienzi Plantation near Thibodaux, the New Orleans Daily Picayune reported. “The leader of them said to-day that no power on earth could remove them unless they were moved as corpses.”
As the cane ripened, growers called on the governor to use muscle against the strikers. And Samuel D. McEnery, Democratic governor and former planter, obliged, calling for the assistance of several all-white Louisiana militias under the command of ex-Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard. One group toted a .45 caliber Gatling gun--a hand-cranked machine gun--around two parishes before parking it in front of the Thibodaux courthouse. An army cannon was set up in front of the jail.
Then the killings started. In St. Mary, the Attakapas Rangers joined a sheriff’s posse facing down a group of black strikers. When one of the workers reached into a pocket, posse members opened fire on the crowd, “and four men were shot dead where they stood,” a newspaper reported. Terror broke the strike in St. Mary Parish.
In neighboring Terrebonne, some small growers came to the bargaining table, but larger planters hired strike-breakers from Vicksburg, Mississippi, 200 miles to the north, promising high wages and bringing them down on trains. The replacement workers were also African Americans, but they lacked experience in the canebrakes. As they arrived, militiamen evicted strikers.
And Thibodaux, in Lafourche Parish, was becoming a refuge for displaced workers. Some moved into vacant houses in town, while others camped along bayous and roadsides. Reports circulated of African-American women gossiping about a planned riot. Violence broke out in nearby Lockport on Bayou Lafourche when Moses Pugh, a black worker, shot and wounded Richard Foret, a planter, in self-defense. A militia unit arrived and mounted a bayonet charge on gathered workers, firing a volley in the air.
But the strike was gaining national attention. “Do the workingmen of the country understand the significance of this movement?” asked Washington D.C.’s National Republican, pointing out that sugar workers were “forced to work at starvation wages, in the richest spot under the American flag.” If forced back to the fields at gun point, no wage worker was safe from employer intimidation.
In Thibodaux, Lafourche Parish District Judge Taylor Beattie declared martial law. Despite being a Republican, Beattie was an ex-Confederate and White League member. He authorized local white vigilantes to barricade the town, identifying strikers and demanding passes from any African-American coming or going. And before dawn on Wednesday, the 23rd of November, pistol shots coming from a cornfield injured two white guards.
The response was a massacre. “There were several companies of white men and they went around night and day shooting colored men who took part in the strike,” said Reverend T. Jefferson Rhodes of the Moses Baptist Church in Thibodaux. Going from house to house, gunmen ordered Jack Conrad (a Union Civil War Veteran), his son Grant, and his brother-in-law Marcelin out of their house. Marcelin protested he was not a striker but was shot and killed anyway. As recounted in John DeSantis' book, Clarisse Conrad watched as her brother Grant “got behind a barrel and the white men got behind the house and shot him dead.” Jack Conrad was shot several times in the arms and chest. He lived and later identified one of the attackers as his employer.
One strike leader found in an attic was taken to the town common, told to run, and shot to pieces by a firing squad. An eyewitness told a newspaper that “no less than thirty-five negroes were killed outright,” including old and young, men and women. “The negroes offered no resistance; they could not, as the killing was unexpected.” Survivors took to the woods and swamps. Killings continued on plantations, and bodies were dumped in a site that became a landfill.
Workers returned to the fields on growers’ terms while whites cheered a Jim Crow victory. The Daily Picayune blamed black unionizers for the violence, saying that they provoked white citizens, suggesting the strikers “would burn the town and end the lives of the white women and children with their cane knives.” Flipping the narrative, the paper argued, “It was no longer a question of against labor, but one of law-abiding citizens against assassins.”
The union died with the strikers, and the assassins went unpunished. There was no federal inquiry, and even the coroner’s inquest refused to point a finger at the murderers. Sugar planter Andrew Price was among the attackers that morning. He won a seat in Congress the next year.
The massacre helped keep unions out of the South at just the moment it was industrializing. Textile manufacturers were moving out of New England, chasing low wages. And after textile factories closed in the 20th century, auto, manufacturing, and energy companies opened in southern states in part for the non-union workforce.
Southern black farm workers would not attempt to unionize again, until the 1930s when the Southern Tenant Farmers Union attracted both white and African American members. But it too was met by a violent racist backlash. The struggle for southern unions continued into the Civil Rights era. On the night before he was assassinated in Memphis, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech supporting striking sanitation workers. He urged his audience “to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. ...You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”