The troubled history of Atlanta Prison Farm holds a much darker story of untold sufferings and unmarked graves.
WARNING: Content of a disturbing nature ahead
Research into the site suggests that it was never federally run as it housed 700 prisoners in brutally overcrowded conditions.
Recently, a police and fire training facility on the site of the old Atlanta Prison Farm at 561 Key Road has been proposed. In September 2021, Atlanta City Council approved the site to be built on 85 of the property’s 300 acres.
However, residents are protesting against this demolition and feel that the new development is implausible considering its history. So, let’s take a further look at the abandoned prison farm before it gets demolished.
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Troubled history of the abandoned prison farm
Prison farms in 2022 tend to focus on logging and mining. However, in the 1900s they involved growing crops, raising animals, digging animal graves and working on construction projects. Atlanta Prison Farm reportedly even raised the donkeys that pulled Martin Luther King Jr.‘s casket following his assassination in 1968.
Records for the Honor Farm, later called the Atlanta Prison Farm, are blurred after 193. It was run as a city prison farm from around 1920 to nearly 1990, officially closing in 1995. However, the last recorded evidence of the prison was from a health inspection report from 1971. Since then it has become abandoned with graffiti and rubbish tipped on the site.
The prison farm has also homed many fires since its closure. The biggest being in 2009 when it was so ferocious the fire department decided to let it burn itself out. Although fires also broke out whilst it was a working prison. In 1958 prisoners were made to rescue a guard’s furniture from a blaze which engulfed the grounds.
Unmarked graves still stand at Atlanta Prison Farm
Researchers have previously attempted to find death and burial records for inmates that died while in prison. The known deaths on record are of one man who was sprayed with an insecticide, which a nurse and those who sprayed the man reportedly confirmed. Then there was Samuel Baynesman who “dropped dead” after a patrolman woke him up. The report also states that Mark Isiah Willingham died after “becoming sick.”
Robert Reynolds is reported to have died from head injuries. Following Reynolds’s death, a 1953 mayoral candidate, Charlie Brown, announced: “approximately 10 prisoners have died in the jail in the last four years ‘under mysterious circumstances”
Georgia Archives file on the Prison Farm describes what happened following the death of inmates. It says if the body is not claimed by a next of kin “then the body shall be given a pauper’s burial not to exceed $50.00.”
Burials don’t always include a headstone although a flag or marker is used, meaning there are many unmarked graves.
Forms of torture at Atlanta Prison Farm
In a horrifying report, white guards allegedly sent black women to a less-occupied area with the assumption it was to do extra work. Instead, it’s claimed prisoners would be sexually assaulted by the guards. The statement also reports some were beaten with a broom handle. Black women were also forced to farm in the rain while white women could stay inside and read newspapers.
Journalist Dick Herbert went undercover as a prisoner for the AJC in 1965. He revealed there was an official form of punishment called “the hole” where “men were starved and degraded.” It was described as a 4×8 foot room with no window where inmates are kept in solitary confinement for bad behaviour. Prisoners were held there 23 hours for days at a time, with an hour away for baths.
Herbert also reported there was “nonexistent medical treatment.” As there were “tubercular, coughing, sickly men, waiting to die, society’s discards, herded into an unwashed ‘stockade’ only to be turned out again without even a smattering of ‘help.”
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If you have been affected by this story, you can contact the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, National Sexual Hotline. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1 (800) 656-4673. You can also contact the Department of Defense Safe Helpline for Sexual Assault on 1 (877) 955-5247.