Progressives and Prison Labor
Rebuilding Ohio’s National Road during World War I
Jeffrey Alan John
University of Akron Press
During World War I Ohio Governor James M. Cox accepted pleas from the federal government to initiate a road-building project that would make the National Road suitable for military vehicles. A lack of workers threatened the plans, however, so in a controversial move hundreds of convicts, almost all African American, were pulled from Ohio's prisons to comprise the labor corps. The multi-million-dollar undertaking, completed just as the war ended, created what was reputed to be the world's longest stretch of continuous brick road. Today, the enterprise serves as an excellent example of how racism and plain old-fashioned politics permeated good intentions of one of the last Progressive Era endeavors. Drawing on archives, contemporary records, and many previously unpublished photos, Progressives and Prison Labor: Rebuilding Ohio's National Road during World War I recalls the National Road background, the personalities, and the massive construction project that consumed southeast Ohio through the spring and summer of 1918.
Jeffrey Alan John, PhD, experienced journalism as a daily newspaper reporter, motorcycle magazine editor, and historical society public relations writer. He then taught journalism for thirty years, and he continues as a Professor Emeritus in Wright State University’s Department of Communication. He is co-author with the late Frank L. Johnson of the true-crime tale A Bird in Your Hand: A story of ambiguous justice, and author of the science fiction Lab Rats Can’t Say No: a story in the future; his scholarly works include a study of the Wright Brothers’ photography, and a longitudinal examination of news content in a Midwest city. He and his wife Karin Avila-John live in Dayton, Ohio’s Oregon Historic District.