Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Comrade Gulliver

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FREE LABOR

A HUGE steel cage, on wheels, was parked alongside a dusty road in Georgia. It was a contraption such as a circus uses in transporting the most ferocious beasts. But instead of animals I saw black men clothed in stripes, like zebras, locked into them.

A pageant, I thought, a mock ritual of some sort. But the despair in the eyes of the Negroes, who were stretched on tiered metal bunks, belied this.

A villainous looking, armed, white man appeared. He flung the creaking gate of the cage open.

"Come, you niggers!'' he cried. "Time! Back to work! Shake a leg there!"

With difficulty, because of the chain dragging on the ankle of each, the Negroes filed out. They were marched up the road. At the bend was a pile of picks and shovels. Each took one and commenced to hack away at the red soil.

"What are these men in chains for?'' I asked the guard.

"Work. And I am here to make them.''

"But what have they done?"

"Don't know nothing about that an' don't care," he said carelessly. "When I wants niggers, I pass the word to the office. If they have none, they get them. Sheriff can take him a walk anytime and bring in a string. He gets five dollars a head -- just for walking down the street and pulling them in. Cinch -- ain't it? Wish I had his job!''

"You mean, some of them have not done anything -- committed no crime?''

"If they ain't done nothing," the guard said with a scowl, "then cinch they have done something before and got away with it. Or will sooner or later. All niggers is criminals. Naturally mean -- anyway, can't dig no roads down here without niggers, can we? And we got to keep getting fresh ones all the time -- niggers ain't hardly civilized no how."

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