U. S. Steel Critical of Wall Street Journal Article; Calls Alabama Convict Labor Story Unfair
Officials of United States Steel LLC expressed disappointment and concern about an article appearing today in The Wall Street Journal that unfairly portrays the company's role in the use of leased convict labor in Alabama during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The article, written by reporter Doug Blackmon, singles out U. S. Steel's participation in the Alabama convict leasing system following its November 1907 purchase of Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company (TCI) in Birmingham.
"TCI engaged in the practice of leasing convict labor from the State of Alabama," a company spokesman said. "U. S. Steel inherited this practice from TCI -- a practice objectionable by today's standards but widespread at the time."
Between 1911 and 1912, the company ceased leasing convict labor. This action was taken at the direction of U. S. Steel's first chairman, Elbert H. Gary, just four years after U. S. Steel began operating TCI and long before the practice was discontinued by other employers in the state.
Any delay in carrying out Gary's directive appears to have been related to the time needed to recruit new workers, build employee houses and develop community services.
"U. S. Steel's early departure from the convict leasing system has been viewed as a move that helped lead to the ultimate demise of Alabama's practice of leasing convict labor," the spokesman said. "Auburn University historian, Dr. Wayne Flynt, has credited the actions of U. S. Steel as being a substantial factor in abolishing the state convict leasing system."
The spokesman said The Journal's decision to focus major attention in this article on U. S. Steel and activities in Alabama more than 90 years ago is "untimely, unfair and a profound disservice to the present-day company and its 38,000 employees."
Among the facts ignored by reporter Blackmon in his article are: -- U. S. Steel was a reluctant purchaser of TCI, and acquired it to avert a feared financial panic on Wall Street with the blessing of President Theodore Roosevelt. -- U. S. Steel was a leader in ending the practice of leasing convict labor. -- U. S. Steel was a participant for only four of the 60 years that the State of Alabama leased convict labor.
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SOURCE: United States Steel LLC
Contact: Tom Ferrall, +1-412-433-6899, or John Armstrong,
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