I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang!
Publication Year: 1997
In 1921, Robert E. Burns was a shell-shocked and penniless veteran who found himself at the mercy of Georgia's barbaric penal system when he fell in with a gang of petty thieves. Sentenced to six to ten years' hard labor for his part in a robbery that netted less than $6.00, Burns was shackled to a county chain gang. After four months of backbreaking work, he made a daring escape, dodging shotgun blasts, racing through swamps, and eluding bloodhounds on his way north.
For seven years Burns lived as a free man. He married and became a prosperous Chicago businessman and publisher. When he fell in love with another woman, however, his jealous wife turned him in to the police, who arrested him as a fugitive from justice. Although he was promised lenient treatment and a quick pardon, he was back on a chain gang within a month. Undaunted, Burns did the impossible and escaped a second time, this time to New Jersey. He was still a hunted man living in hiding when this book was first published in 1932.
The book and its movie version, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1933, shocked the world by exposing Georgia's brutal treatment of prisoners. I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! is a daring and heartbreaking book, an odyssey of misfortune, love, betrayal, adventure, and, above all, the unshakable courage and inner strength of the fugitive himself.
Published by: University of Georgia Press
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UNDER A fiery Georgia sun. On a ribbon of red clay road. Glittering like an endless bronze snake among the trees. Throwing dust into your lungs. We are hiking on a broiling summer's day from the...
I. The War Makes a Wanderer
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THERE GOES the bugle, Howard, blowing for the last assembly we'll stand 'til the next war!" said I. "Gee whiz! won't it be great to get back in civies again, eh?—and oh, boy, I'm glad it's...
II. The Wanderer Gets into a Jam
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NEXT MORNING broke fine and clear and warm. While I was washing in the crude basin (the place had no sinks), in come the two strangers of yesterday. We all went out to eat...
III. An Introduction to the Georgia Chain Gang
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AND HERE another surprise awaited me. I had never seen a penitentiary, but had read that they are large institutions of stone and are surrounded by a huge wall After about one hour's...
IV. A Decision to "Run Out
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I WAS exhausted mentally, physically, and spiritually, and soon fell asleep. I thought I had been asleep about five minutes when I was awakened...
V. Breaking the Shackles
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ONE DAY I noticed a certain Negro in my group swing a twelve-pound sledge hammer. He had been in the gang so long and had used a sledge so much that he had become an expert....
VI. Running the Gauntlet Through Georgia
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AFTER TWENTY minutes I broke into a steady gait, the dogs still at my heels. Through bushes, briars, hills, dales, fields, swamps, and small streams I ran. The heat was terrific; I was burning...
VII. To Chicago and—Freedom
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I HAD NOT gone twenty-five feet when I heard loud cries coming from the station. "There he is! There he is! Get him!" My heart jumped right into my throat! There was awful excitement and bustle at the station. Men were running. They were chasing someone...
VIII. An Unfortunate Marriage
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STILL IN my fifty-cent cotton shirt, my overalls, "gin house" Stetson and all, with sixty cents in my pocket, I was in Chicago. At last! I had hitch-hiked a ride in a friendly auto and here I was. I got out at Roosevelt Road and Crawford Avenue. I spent the day looking...
IX. Success, Romance and—Betrayal
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THREE YEARS rolled by. The Greater Chicago Magazine grew and expanded. It became a force in the civic affairs of Chicago. And I, the founder, became prominent and successful. I made...
X. The Heavy Hand of Unfeeling Law
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LOVE! WHAT a wonderful thing it is. How it can change a drab existence to a life of wonder. Every hour becomes a joy, a blessing. The dreams and distant hopes of years, at last come true....
XI. In the Coils of Legal Red Tape
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WAS I the man referred to in this letter? "Yes," I replied. I was stupefied, my head was reeling. Quickly they saw I was not a criminal. They were very much surprised and sympathized with me. I called in Mac- Bain—explained the situation...
XII. The Fight against Extradition
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RETURNING TO my office after this hearing at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon, I found the place in utmost confusion. Friends, business associates, strangers, newspapermen and photographers were all awaiting my arrival from Court. Everybody wanted to...
XIII. Back to the Horrors of the Gang
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I TOOK STOCK of the situation. I was not in prison yet and there were many doors of escape still left. Rather than go back to the chain gang, I would sacrifice all but love. That was what...
XIV. A Request for Money—and a Transfer
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HERE WAS the strongest individual political power in Georgia, William Schley Howard, bluntly telling me that it was possible that I would have to remain in prison a year. I was frightened...
XV. Life at the Troup County Stockade
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WHEN THE great steel door closed with a bang behind the La Grange stockade all hope left me. It was nine o'clock on a hot July night, the year, 1929. A dim, solitary light cast dancing shadows over a large square room, divided in...
XVI. Excitement Among the Convicts
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WITH SUCH an assortment of men, hardened and made desperate by the inhuman treatment that faced them day by day, excitement was always just around the corner. One day "Bounce" Murphy feigned sickness. He was kept locked in the bull pen....
XVII. A Hearing Before the Prison Commission
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WITH EVERYONE around me plotting to escape I determined to put my faith in the Prison Commission's sense of justice. I felt I merited a parole or a pardon. Worried and in despair, I still clung to the faint hope; that the Prison Commission...
XVIII. Some Interesting Sidelights on Chain-Gang Life
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W>HILE THE judicial minds of the Prison Commission were pondering the weighty problem of my fate, based on their principles of humanity and justice, I was daily facing the ordeal...
XIX. The Depths of Despair
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AUGUST 24, 1929, at which time I was a member of the soil-pit gang, was an exceptionally hot and dusty day, even for Georgia. I had been keeping the lick all morning in the terrific heat. It had been two weeks since...
XX. Hope Revived Once More
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RECREATIONAL AND educational facilities in a Georgia chain gang consist solely of a semi-monthly sermon rendered by an evangelical Baptist minister and the usual background of a few fanatical assistants. These services took place in the mess hall and all prisoners were compelled to attend them....
XXI. The Serious Barrier of Georgia Prejudice
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MY BROTHER, the Reverend Vincent Godfrey Burns, Pastor of Union Church, Palisade, New Jersey, arrived in Georgia on July 2 shortly after my mother's arrival. He brought with him all of the affidavits mentioned heretofore, and letters...
XXII. Driven to Desperation
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THE DAY of my second hearing had arrived and I had pondered all of the angles of my case. The known facts were these: The sworn testimony of over a hundred responsible persons who knew me personally, testifying to my good character...
XXIII. Preparation for a Daring Break
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SUCH WAS my feeling when I left the camp on the morning of September 1 to go to work in the vicinity of Mountville, Georgia, about seventy-five miles from Atlanta. Right here let me explain that a part, and a very important part, of my plan to escape...
XXIV. Another Try at Breaking the Gang
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BUT NO signal yet. Was my deliverer coming? Again I looked at my shadow. It was 8 o'clock. Still no signal. Disappointment replaced hope. My shadow said 8:10—and I knew that the man who had promised to aid me was not coming. The tension in my body and mind relaxed...
XXV. Almost Recaptured
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A GREAT surge of fear swept over me. Fighting desperately to get a grip on my nerves, I could do nothing but get in the chair—and take the desperate gamble that he might not recognize me. I also realized that I must speak...
XXVI. Out of Georgia to an Unknown Destination
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TWENTY-FIVE or thirty feet ahead of me, I noticed a drug store and, anxious to get out of their sight, as I realized that if I would be out of their sight I would be out of their minds, I started...
XXVII. A Fugitive in his Native Land
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I AM STILL a fugitive! Many people no doubt wonder what were my feelings as I put aside the prison garb, I hope forever, and again began to take up civilized life...
Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 1997