This Juneteenth, The 83rd and Sermon3 Recordings releases Solitary Souls, the documentary EP and web archival site that uncovers the history of systematic mass black incarceration in the United States. For too long, we’ve been alienated from one another, separated, put in social and economic caste systems, based on misinformation and stereotypes we’ve been fed thru government-fueled-propaganda to criminalize people of color.
Solitary Souls brings it back to where slavery supposedly left off with the Emancipation Proclamation, and proves thru archival footage, prison inmate songs, interviews, and other contextual links that slavery never ended in America, but only has become more complex and throughout the years.
Knowing this, we can shed predisposed positions about one another and start to reflect on how we got here and why we feel certain ways about ourselves and one another in the first place. Peeling back the layers of American history thru exploring post-slavery prison incarcerations in the deep south and repurposing those recordings thru new music by The 83rd, Solitary Souls aims to give us the sobering knowledge that we are not violent criminals, but instead black woman, black man and are our allies alike, we are resilient.
Solitary Souls full sonic and written documentary available at www.solitarysouls.net
Despite every attempt to assassinate our blackness, our mind, our opportunities, our advancement, YET Again WE RISE.
Check out excerpts from Solitary Souls archival site below:
a sonic documentation of mass incarceration by The 83rd
This Juneteenth I wanted to release Solitary Souls, a sonic and written documentation of the history of mass black incarceration in the United States. Too many people don’t know how we got here, black and white alike. So both parties act based on what they heard about the other or themselves, not knowing their actual history.
It seemed appropriate we start in Texas.
Texas has a huge significance in the fact that two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had abolished slavery, no one still had told the slaves they were free. Whites kept it a secret and excluded blacks from the truth of their freedom for as long as possible. The day Union soldiers came into Texas and spread the news that blacks were no longer slaves was June 19th, known officially as Juneteenth.
Now here’s the catch. The Emancipation Proclamation was formally written into the constitution as the 13th amendment and actually states slavery is illegal in the US except as an appropriate punishment for a crime. So whites made sure blacks were locked up for as many grievances as they could think of. Looking a white man in the eye, not having a job, being unescorted by a white man in public, were all permissible crimes to lock up blacks in America during the 20th century, making them yet again slaves. Under these ‘black codes,’ which would develop into the Jim Crow laws, the prison population grew 10 times faster the general population.
You’re listening to the result of the black codes in the Ellis Unit at Hunstville Prison in Texas, 1966.
Black woman, black man, the truth is you are RESILIENT. You are resourceful, you are courageous. Despite all the attempts in the world of people trying to make you believe a degraded version of yourself, your family historically has fought and fought and fought for you to be able to get to this place. You keep fighting with grace and humility to take you and your family to the next place.
The reason they want us to believe we’re dangerous, criminals, try and change our self perception, try to distract, confuse and dissolve us so much is because we are SO POWERFUL. As you listen, know that despite every attempt to assassinate our blackness, our mind, our opportunities, our advancement, YET Again WE RISE.
The inmates at Parchman Farm Penitentiary in the Mississippi Delta were the first prison recordings I ever heard. Shaken to a core as I audibly bore witness to the chain gangs holler and sang with everything in them, I couldn’t help but shed tears and throw my headphones off from under me. It was too close, too exposed, too raw, too hurtful, too weathered.
It was after hearing the Parchman inmates that I knew I had to do ‘something’ with these recordings. I knew I couldn’t force it, two years later I began working on Solitary Souls. A year and half later I found out my great grandfather, Les McNair, was a prisoner at Parchman Farm around the time of these very recordings. It was closer than I could have realized.
My family and your family’s legacy didn’t start or end in plantation or prison chains, though governing forces want you to believe so.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, 2000 blacks took legislative office. From mayors to congressmen, many southern blacks were excelling in positions of authority and influence.This triggered a backlash. Many whites thought the black man had received his just due, and began lynching, removing civil rights and locking up blacks for petty crimes in overwhelming numbers. Its why so many people left and migrated to Chicago, NY, Detroit and LA.
Many southern blacks who didn’t have the resources to leave were imprisoned, doing manual labor as property of the state and private companies.
Now here’s the catch. During slavery the first time around, when your owned by a family, they abused you, but they kept you alive… cause you were expensive. With prison slavery you’re owned by the state, so if you died they didn’t care, they could just go and get ‘another negro.’
Ultimately, you had these brothers working on the chain gang, building the railroads, industrial complexes, mining what would become the landscape of 21st century America, while literally passing out and dying in the field under horrid conditions. Working in the sweltering heat, lack of nourishment, physical, mental and sexual abuse all ran rampant as part of prison life. If you fell behind in the field you were beaten, possibly killed.
To keep everyone in line, on time and safe, the prisoners began singing call and response songs together, songs originally birthed from their own churches and communities. They would sing and strike their axes and hammers on the down beat, in hopes to keep everyone safe, as the they continued working as slaves to the state.
With the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery hadn’t ended, it only grew more complex.
You’re listening to the inmates keep each other in time and alive in Camp B at Parchman Farm in Mississippi, 1947.
Black man, Black woman, the truth is you are RESILIENT. You are resourceful, you are courageous. Despite all the attempts in the world of people trying to make you believe a degraded version of yourself, your family historically has fought and fought and fought for you to be able to get to this place. You keep fighting with grace and humility to take you and your family to the next place.
The reason they want to keep our progression controlled, made blacks congregating illegal, try to distract, confuse and dissolve us so much is because we are SO POWERFUL. As you listen, know that despite every attempt to assassinate our blackness, our mind, our opportunities, our advancement, YET Again WE RISE.
When we think of prison we tend to think of the overt harshness – the physical, sexual, mental abuse, the over working, the terrible living conditions… and they are every bit as horrible as they sound, but we often overlook the subtle killers, the pain these men and women felt due to loneliness and isolation.
At Angola Prison in Louisiana, known as the ‘Alcatraz of the South’ for its horrendous reputation, we find Odea Matthews. There’s a quiet fury in her. Amidst the compounded complexities and chaos ensuing at Angola, she isn’t loud, boisterous, there’s no panic in her voice. She’s simply tired. She’s singing alone and she’s tired.
Black codes led to countless women, men and children losing themselves to the isolation of prison. Its why this documentary EP is called Solitary Souls.
These inmates didn’t have a platform to tell their side of the story and be heard on their terms. Instead they were told what they could and couldn’t do as ‘free’ degraded citizens and eventually as enslaved convicts. I couldn’t let these voices be drowned in propaganda-fueled-education, media and distorted cultural norms, and couldn’t die knowing they died without adequate representation. Because these men and women represent us. They are our great grandfathers, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. We lose their true story, we lose ours.
You’re listening to Odea Matthews and the Mens Corrections at Angola prison in Louisiana, 1959.
The reason they don’t want us fully informed, recognizing the limitless of our true self, is because we are SO POWERFUL. As you listen, know that despite every attempt to assassinate our blackness, our mind, our opportunities, our advancement, YET Again WE RISE.