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Old 01-05-2008, 07:13 PM   #1
DeBandi OP
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Thumb Exploring Alabama’s Flat Top Mine

Today’s adventure takes us to Flat Top Mine.

The mine is located just on the other end of this old abandoned railroad tunnel. Coal came though this tunnel on its way to Birmingham. Let’s go see what is to be found at this historical mine site.










Some remnants from the railroad line.





This was the tipple site where the rail cars were loaded with coal.




That’s the old commissary in the distance.






This mining operation was operated by the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company.






Flat Top Mine opened in 1901, and by 1912 the location was the top producing coal mine in the area. It employed some 575 men.

Unfortunately, it has an extremely tainted history.

In 1910 as many as 5,000 state prisoners were under convict-lease in Alabama.












Production was increasing because the massive pig iron furnaces in Birmingham were consuming all the coal/coke the region could provide. Convicts provided an ideal captive work force: cheap, usually docile, unable to organize and available when free laborers went on strike.


Thousands of African-American men sentenced to terms of less than a year were being cycled through the convict-lease system. The threat of arrest and forced labor had become a fixture of black life in rural areas of Alabama.

Under the convict-leasing system, government officials agreed with a company such as Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company to provide a specific number of prisoners for labor. State officials signed contracts to supply companies with large blocks of men -- often hundreds at a time -- who had committed felonies. The companies built their own prisons, fed and clothed the convicts, and supplied guards as they saw fit.

This image is of the prison located at Flat Top, circa 1910. Convicts reached the mine by shuffling through a long, low-ceilinged shaft extending from inside the walls of their prison compound. This facility housed 165 inmates and it was reported that 137 floggings took place per month.





Mr. Daniels was killed in 1917 while attempting to escape from the Sloss-Sheffield mine at Flat Top.


In 1924, a white convict named James Knox died shortly after he was leased to Sloss-Sheffield to work in the mines. The cause of death stated on his death certificate was suicide. Later, a series of newspaper reports alleged that a coroner had determined that Mr. Knox died of heart failure while being tortured by guards who held him upside down in a barrel of water. The resulting public outrage finally pushed state officials to ban the use of leased convict labor entirely in 1928. On July 9, 1928, some 800 convicts lined up at this facility to turn in their lamps and shovels.








They were the last convicts in the U.S. whose labor had been sold by the state to private interests. Alabama was the last of the states to abolish the leasing of convict labor.

Requests for reform began as early as 1915, but progressed slowly in the state. In 1923 the Alabama legislature passed the reform law. However, not until 1927 were the state's penal facilities built up to accommodate all its prisoners.



SPECIAL NOTE: Access to this area is prohibited. Special permission was granted exclusively for the Exploring Alabama series of reports.


Thanks for exploring the Flat Top Mine of Alabama with me.
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Old 01-05-2008, 07:19 PM   #2
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thats a pretty interesting place,,anywhere thats accessed through a tunnel has to be good.
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Old 01-05-2008, 07:25 PM   #3
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Great report again. I was wondering, is the concrete structure in the 8th and 9th photos the actual entrance to the mine?
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Old 01-05-2008, 07:45 PM   #4
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History

Great tunnel Picture!

Also, thanks for reminding us of some of our unfortunate past . . . . .

Prison labor is still a fact of life in China and other countries - No wonder the sh*t they export to us is so cheap!

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Old 01-05-2008, 07:54 PM   #5
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Thanks for the history tour, pics and report...
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Old 01-05-2008, 09:39 PM   #6
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Nice report. I went there a number of years ago when I was working in the environmental field in Alabama. My contact there said that reports indicate that many of the prisoners never saw the light of day during their term of imprisonment at Flat Top.

There's an amazing history of mining and associated activities in Jefferson and Blount Counties. Thanks for reporting here - it's interesting seeing photos of some of these places again after so many years.
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Old 01-05-2008, 10:21 PM   #7
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Great report - the B/W pics really add value to the somber story.
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Old 01-06-2008, 06:58 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by catadjuster
Great report again. I was wondering, is the concrete structure in the 8th and 9th photos the actual entrance to the mine?
Thanks catadjuster.

Yes, it is one of the actual mine entrances. This one is flooding with water.
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Old 01-06-2008, 07:29 AM   #9
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Great report. Like the history of the region.
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Old 01-06-2008, 07:47 AM   #10
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Educational...tks
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Old 01-06-2008, 09:23 AM   #11
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Once again Sir...nice job!
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Old 01-06-2008, 10:08 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by usgser
Once again Sir...nice job!
Yep, another good report!
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Old 01-06-2008, 01:40 PM   #13
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great report, keep 'em coming
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Old 01-06-2008, 03:37 PM   #14
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Another great report.

Clothing was in constant shortage. Alabama convict miners literally never changed their clothing. As late as 1924 this fact had not been ascertained by the best informed state officials outside of the prison department. When the state fire marshal, Chester Johnson, investigated a deadly fire at the stockade of Flat Top Mine in 1924, he inquired about the miners' oily, grimy suits, aptly called "muckers" by the prisoners and guards alike. "The muckers...are nothing but grease," Thomas Dunkin, the yard sergeant, testified. Later Johnson asked convict Robert Blanchard, "How often do you draw your suits?" "As a rule you draw a pair of pants, and that pants lasts 90 days, "Blanchard replied. Johnson thought Blanchard might have misunderstood the question. "I mean change, for washing or cleaning?" "You don't change muckers at all," Blanchard responded. "Just wear it out."


pg 65. One Dies, Get Another - Matthew Mancini 1996
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Old 01-06-2008, 04:22 PM   #15
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Good report… I too like the black and white photos, as they gave it a better feeling of that era. Nice job!
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