Parchmans Farm

cd cover: terraplane by scott ainslieJudge give me life this mornin’, down on old Parchmans Farm.
Judge give me life this mornin’, down on old Parchmans Farm.
I wouldn’t hate it so bad, but I miss my wife and my home.

Now, good-bye wife, all you have done gone, all you have done gone.
Well, good-bye wife, all you have done gone.
But I hope someday you will hear my lonesome song.

INSTRUMENTAL

You go to work in the mornin’, just the dawn of day,
just the dawn of day.
Go to work in the mornin’, just at the dawn of day.
And at the settin’ of the sun that is when your work is done.

Now, listen you men: I don’t mean no harm, I don’t mean no harm.
Now, listen. You men. I don’t mean no harm.
If you wanna do good you better stay off old Parchman’s Farm.

INSTRUMENTAL

I’m down on old Parchman’s Farm, but ISure wanna go back home, Wanna go back home.
I’m down on old Parchman’s Farm, but I sure wanna go back home.
And I hope some day that I will overcome.

Judge give me life this mornin’, down on old Parchman’s Farm.
Judge give me life this mornin’, down on old Parchman’s Farm.
I wouldn’t hate it so bad, but I miss my wife and my home.

GUITAR:

Not a guitar at all, but a homemade, single-stringed instrument known in North Carolina as a “one-string”, but called a “diddley bow” in Georgia and some other parts of the south. This instrument is the acknowledged source of Bo Diddly’s stage name. Taking “Bukka” White’s Parchmans Farm blues back a step in musical technology felt like living in a different time.

Read more about the diddley bow, access photos and video clip in Blues Notes and in my Media Archives (the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center clip.)

Parchmans Farm Blues comes from the playing of “Bukka” White, a cousin of B.B. King,m who was sent to the State Penitentiary at Parchmans, Mississippi in 1937. The great Son House and Leadbelly did time there as well. With its curious mix of patronage and peonage, and its exaggerated and twisted codes of honor and vengeance, Mississippi has always answered violence with more violence. And for those who exscaped the lynch mobs, the place where that violence was meted out was Parchmans Farm.

Parchmans Farm was set up by the state of Mississippi in 1904 on 20,000 acres of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and was based on the premise that, in payment for their offenses and upkeep, the labor of convicts belonged to the state. Parchmans replaced a brutal system of convict leasing that was common in the post-Reconstruction South (where not a single convict lived to serve out a ten year sentence!) with one that was equally brutal. With no walls and few fences, Parchmans was designed to wring the maximum amount of labor from the convicts at the smallest possible expense. In its first year of operation Parchmans turned a profit of $185,000 – filling the state’s coffers and handsomely reinforcing the commonly held belief that black labor continued to exist in Mississippi primarily for the enrichment of whites.

As David Oshinsky noted in the title for his book on Parchmans and penology in the Jim Crow South, it was actually “worse than slavery”.

The administration of Parchmans Farm was taken over by the Federal courts after the confinement and brutal treatment of civil rights demonstrators during the 1960s. Driving by Parchmans on Route 49 today you’ll see a small sign telling you you’ve entered prison land and warning you not to pick up hitch-hikers.

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