https://reveal-player.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/838_Reveal_PC.mp3

After the Civil War, a new form of slavery took hold in the US and lasted more than 60 years. Associated Press reporters Margie Mason and Robin McDowell investigate the chilling history of how Southern states imprisoned mainly Black men, often for minor crimes, and then leased them out to private companies – for years, even decades, at a time. The team talks with the descendant of a man imprisoned in the Lone Rock stockade in Tennessee nearly 140 years ago, where people as young as 12 worked under subhuman conditions in coal mines and inferno-like ovens used to produce iron. This system of forced prison labor enriched the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad company – at the cost of prisoners’ lives. 

At the state park that sits on the former site of the Lone Rock stockade, relics from the hellish prison are buried beneath the soil. Archeologist Camille Westmont has found thousands of artifacts, such as utensils and the plates prisoners ate off. She has also created a database listing the names of those sent to Lone Rock. A team of volunteers are helping her, including a woman reckoning with her own ancestor’s involvement in this corrupt system and the wealth her family benefited from.   

The United States Steel Corporation helped build bridges, railroads and towering skyscrapers across America. But the company also relied on forced prison labor. After U.S. Steel took over Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad in 1907, the industrial giant used prison labor for at least five years. During that time, more than 100 men died while working in their massive coal mining operation in Alabama. U.S. Steel has misrepresented this dark chapter of its history. And it has never apologized for its use of forced labor or the lives lost. The reporters push the company to answer questions about its past and engage with communities near the former mines.

Lone Rock Stockade in Tracy City, Tennessee, in an undated photo. Courtesy Travis Turner.

Dig Deeper

Read: Locked Up – The Prison Labor that Built Business Empires [AP]

Read: Douglas Blackmon’s book Slavery By Another Name

Explore: The Lone Rock Stockade archaeology project

Watch: The documentary-in-progress Ghosts of Lone Rock

Credits

Reporters: Margie Mason and Robin McDowell | Lead producer: Michael Montgomery | Producer: Najib Aminy | Editors: Cynthia Rodriguez and Jenny Casas | Production and research support: Robert Conley, Alexander Richey, Carmen White, Christopher McDonough and Stephen Garrett | Fact checkers: Nikki Frick and Kim Freda | Genealogist researcher: Vicki McGill | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Score and sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda | Post-production team: Kathryn Styer Martínez and Steven Rascón | Interim executive producers: Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers | Host: Al Letson

This episode was produced in collaboration with the Associated Press. Special thanks to Robin McDowell, Margie Mason, and editor Ron Nixon. The AP team had support from Columbia University’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights in conjunction with Arnold Ventures.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:Hey, hey, hey, just a quick favor, we are conducting an audience survey. We’d be really grateful if you can just take a few minutes to fill it out. Please visit survey.prx.org/reveal to take the survey today. That’s survey.prx.org/reveal. Feel free to tell them that Al Letson is your all-time favorite host and thanks.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal I’m Al Letson.
Jerry Weeden:Hello.
Al Letson:This past summer, reporter Margie Mason got on the phone with a man in Tennessee.
Margie Mason:Let me just tell you who I am. I’m a reporter at the Associated Press, and I have been working on a project in Tennessee, and then-
Al Letson:She’s talking to Jerry Weeden. He’s a pastor in the town of Murfreesboro, Southeast of Nashville. Margie and her reporting partner, Robin McDowell, found him after months of research. They’re convinced Jerry is the descendant of a Black man born around the time of the Civil War who was arrested for a minor crime and forced to work in a private coal mine. It was a new form of slavery. These are difficult facts to share.
Margie Mason:They were rounding up men, mostly Black men for what should have been misdemeanor crimes, and I have come across the name that I’m wondering if you have ever heard this name, Shelah Doss or Sheely Doss.
Jerry Weeden:No, ma’am, not at all.
Al Letson:Shelah Doss. Margie and Robin found his name in state prison records from the 1880s and then traced him to Jerry. At first, Jerry’s puzzled.
Margie Mason:Okay. Well, you have Doss in your family, right?
Jerry Weeden:Most of my family on my grandmother’s side, I really don’t know them.
Margie Mason:Let’s see. Lizzy, Lizzy, Lizzy married Tom Weeden Senior.
Jerry Weeden:That’s my grandmother, Lizzy Weeden, yeah.
Margie Mason:Okay, so Lizzy’s mom, her name was Gertrude, and she was-
Jerry Weeden:Yes! Yes! Yes!
Margie Mason:Yes. That would be your great-grandmother, right?
Jerry Weeden:Right. Yes.
Margie Mason:Okay, so then Gertrude’s father was a man named Shelah, S-H-E-L-A-H Doss, and I guess Sheely is often kind of how he went, by the name of the Sheely.
Jerry Weeden:Shut up!
Al Letson:Shelah’s story was nearly forgotten to history. Jerry’s eager to know more.
Margie Mason:He was arrested in 1885 for allegedly stealing a hog worth $5.
Jerry Weeden:Yeah. I’m like, “This is wow.”
Al Letson:Shelah Doss was one of tens of thousands of Black men across the South who were criminalized and leased to private companies for backbreaking work. It was a system known as convict leasing. Robin McDowell and Margie Mason have spent a large chunk of their careers investigating forced labor across the globe for the Associated Press. For this show, they’re taking us back 150 years to look at how private companies built empires off the forced labor of Black men thrust into a corrupt legal system. Margie picks up the story at South Cumberland State Park in Tracy City, Tennessee.
Margie Mason:I’m in the mountains, standing near a lake surrounded by trees. It’s peaceful now, but if you go back in time, a massive coal mining complex once covered these hills. I’m here with Camille Westmont. She’s an archeologist working with a team of volunteers to unearth a part of this history that’s been buried.
Camille Westmon…:If you were standing here 150 years ago, you truly would’ve been in the middle of something akin to an industrial wasteland. These trees would not have been here. Everything would’ve been covered in kind of a layer of coal particulates, and really, at the head of this valley, as you looked up, you would’ve seen this massive prison.
Margie Mason:The prison was known as the Lone Rock Stockade, and it was owned by Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad, one of the first companies listed on the Dow Jones Index. This coal mining operation was vital in the production of iron for the new South. Camille says the prison was designed to hold 200 people at a time.
Camille Westmon…:But we see from the records that by the 1890s, there’s well over 500, and at some points, even over 600 individuals imprisoned here.
Margie Mason:Around 5,000 people passed through the gates of Lone Rock. Some of the prisoners were white and Native American. There were women too, but most were Black men like Shelah Doss.

Were there children too?
Camille Westmon…:The youngest that I’ve seen in the records is 12. 12 to 16 is fairly, fairly common.
Margie Mason:We walked to the location where the prisoners were kept in cramped cells, enclosed by two-story high white walls that ran the length of a football field. Today, there’s almost no trace of the stockade left, just woods, but Camille believes there’s more to be found underground.
Camille Westmon…:We know that there was a morgue, and we’re also hoping that we might be able to identify the location of the cemetery associated with the stockade.
Margie Mason:Some historians have written about the convict leasing system, but there’s been a lot less focus on Lone Rock, so what Camille is doing is new.
Camille Westmon…:The connections that I often make between convict leasing and what’s happening today is that convict leasing took incarceration and made it less about reform and more about generating profit.
Margie Mason:She started her work three years ago as a researcher at the University of the South. Since then, she’s dug up thousands of small artifacts. She’s also found records in the state archives from inspectors and lawmakers who were appalled by the conditions at Lone Rock. One report describes the whip that guards used on naked prisoners.
Camille Westmon…:It weighs two and a half pounds, and it’s made out of shoe leather, so it’s layers of shoe sole leather that have been bolted together. And the direct quote is, “It would be inhumane to whip an ox with this whip.” And they’re using it on humans.
Margie Mason:Tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and other deadly diseases were rampant. Some men were killed by cave-ins and falling slate. Others were shot to death while trying to escape.
Camille Westmon…:This was an incredibly deadly industry, an incredibly deadly system.
Margie Mason:And how many years was this here?
Camille Westmon…:There were convict laborers in Tracy City for 25 years. These stockades had an annual mortality rate of 10%. Every year, 10% of the people who were imprisoned here died. So, in 1894, when there’s 611 people imprisoned at the Lone Rock Stockade, approximately 60 people died. Again, every year.
Margie Mason:What did this place look like? So much time has passed it’s hard to even imagine. Camille tells me about a photograph that’s been preserved, so I go see the man who has it. He lives off a country road about a mile from Lone Rock.
Travis Turner:The last time I came out here, this key didn’t want to fit. It didn’t want to work, but we’ll get it.
Margie Mason:Travis Turner is a builder and a musician who comes from a long line of coal miners. He’s leading me into a two-room building that he made for his late father, William Turner. William was an amateur historian and a prolific collector.
Travis Turner:Well, we’re in my dad’s little history museum where he stored about 70-some odd years of his collection.
Margie Mason:There are stacks of old newspapers, antique mining gear, and script used in place of money at the old company store. Travis says some of the businessmen behind convict leasing were former slaveholders and Confederate officers.
Travis Turner:It was almost like, in some cases, well, if we can’t have it the way we had it before, we’ll find another way to have it. It’s the new slavery, and it was a way for people with money to get more money. And a lot of money was made on these poor people at the stockade.
Margie Mason:The prisoners did fight back on occasion. There were escapes, and there was also resistance from mostly white coal miners who were upset about the prisoners taking their jobs.
Travis Turner:There you go.
Margie Mason:Wow!

One of the most important artifacts in his collection is the image I’ve come to see.
Travis Turner:I think this photograph is probably from the 1890s. We’re looking at a large collection of men, armed men, around, it looks like, one unfortunate convict wearing his stripes.
Margie Mason:Two lines of white men stand in front of the stockade’s tall, wooden walls. They’re holding rifles, and some are dressed up in ties, black Derby hats, and suit vests. The prisoner is sitting on the ground in front of them. He’s the only Black person in the photo.
Travis Turner:He looks hopeless, and his fate must have been bad.
Margie Mason:This image captures in a flash the brutal power dynamics of the convict leasing system.
Taneya Koonce:One of the first things that resonates with me about that photograph is you can pick up on the emotional undertones of what’s going on.
Margie Mason:Taneya Koonce heads the Nashville Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. She’s thought a lot about the man in the photo. None of us know who he is or what happened to him.
Taneya Koonce:Does he make it out of the stockade? Is he one of the many that died at the stockade? And if it is the end of his story, the fact that we have this picture means that we can make sure that we honor him in a way to use it as an expression of, okay, this is what happened at the stockade. We are telling the story. Your life did not end there. It makes me want to cry because you’re looking at the scene, and just it’s atrocious.
Margie Mason:Telling the stories of the people imprisoned at Lone Rock is one way to make sure their history isn’t totally erased. And because Tennessee kept detailed records, we know the prisoners’ names, their alleged crimes, where they were convicted. It’s all written in elegant cursive in thick-bound ledgers.

Taneya and the other volunteers are working with Camille Westmont on the painstaking job of transferring the original entries into an online database.
Taneya Koonce:Our ability to transcribe the names is meaningful for us because it’s going to help us ensure that we get more information publicly available about the men and women who were there.
Margie Mason:This new database gives insight into the corrupt and racist legal system the prisoners faced. Miscegenation, a law intended to prevent interracial relationships, could get you five years. And while some people were sent to Lone Rock for violent crimes, more than half of the prisoners were sent to the coal mines for stealing.
Taneya Koonce:They’re very, what would be, minimal crimes, misdemeanors or even lower rank than that. But they were constructed against the African American population specifically to provide an environment that will allow them to be taken to prison.
Margie Mason:Black communities were continuing to be ripped apart. It’s in the state records. During slavery, the number of Black people in Tennessee prisons rarely exceeded 5%. About 25 years after emancipation with convict leasing flourishing, the percentage of Black prisoners skyrocketed to 75%. Taneya says these were people with families.
Taneya Koonce:Anytime we have an opportunity to research who they were and who their families were, it’s a way of reconnecting the family back together, for, as you know, African Americans in this country had been purposely disenfranchised from family.
Margie Mason:Reconnecting families., a couple months ago, I set out to do just that, find someone alive today whose ancestor was imprisoned at Lone Rock, but it was really hard. Census records were full of holes and inaccuracies, and family names sometimes changed. The prison ledgers were a start, but I needed more, so I scrolled through reams of microfilm that contained the full prison records.

This is where I first came across Shelah Doss. His name caught my attention. It’s so unusual. Another thing, Shelah lived in the tiny town of Woodbury. What are the odds that more than one Shelah Doss lived there? I hit the phone, calling everywhere, the county courthouse, the library. I even tracked down the local genealogy expert.

Hello?
Peggy:Hello.
Margie Mason:Hi, is this Peggy?
Peggy:Yes, it is.
Margie Mason:No one had heard of Shelah Doss, but the name Shelah was familiar to Tim Gentry. He’s a funeral home director in Woodbury.
Tim Gentry:Around here, a lot of people would call that type of name, Sheely.
Margie Mason:Sheely.
Tim Gentry:It’s just kind of a slang way to say Shelah.
Margie Mason:Tim offered to get back to me, but in the meantime, I found the answer in a treasure trove of old newspaper obituaries, one for Shelah Doss’ daughter Gertrude. That led me to her daughter, Lizzy, then to Lizzy’s son, William Weeden. And in his 2007 obituary, I spotted a surviving son, Reverend Jerry Weeden. A simple Google search, and bingo, that’s how I found Jerry.
Jerry Weeden:[inaudible]. Hit me with those.
Margie Mason:Turns out he posts his sermons on Facebook.
Jerry Weeden:I’m going to say it. You’re blessed.
Congregation:Amen.
Margie Mason:A genealogy expert reviewed my research and confirmed that Jerry is Shelah Doss’ great-great-grandson. All of this is a backstory to my first phone call with Jerry.
Jerry Weeden:I am just floored right now. I am.
Margie Mason:Well, I’m so glad that you’re interested because I feel like I’ve been searching for you for months now, and-
Jerry Weeden:I have to meet you. I have to meet you.
Margie Mason:All right. Well, I’m coming down. I’m coming down to meet you, and I’m going …

A week and a half later, I’m at Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church in Murfreesboro. Jerry’s the pastor. He’s also an educator.
Speaker 10:Hey, there.
Jerry Weeden:How you doing?
Speaker 10:I’m good.
Jerry Weeden:Nice to meet you. I’m [inaudible].
Margie Mason:Hi, Jerry.

The church is one big room, warm, intimate. We sit down in the back, and I open my laptop. I click a 50-page file with all my research, census data, death records, and old newspaper clippings. I scroll through the database listing the 5,000 prisoners sent to Lone Rock. 1,392, that is Shelah, and it’s written as Dob, but it’s really Doss.
Jerry Weeden:Colored, DeKalb County.
Margie Mason:He was 19.
Jerry Weeden:19. Height, 5’11’. I mean, 5’7″
Margie Mason:And a half. 159 pounds.
Jerry Weeden:Wow, that detailed.
Margie Mason:We sift through a copy of the original handwritten court case. Parts are hard to decipher. It says Shelah was convicted of larceny in 1885 and that he pleaded guilty.
Jerry Weeden:So, he said he’s guilty. That’s what they say he said.
Margie Mason:That’s what they say he said.
Jerry Weeden:The court proceeded to selecting a jury of good and lawful men. Right, yeah. I know what that means, the good old boys. Stack the deck. They actually gave him one year for a hog.
Margie Mason:One year of hard labor at the Tracy City coal mines for allegedly stealing a pig. He was tough because 10% of these guys died.
Jerry Weeden:Wow.
Margie Mason:10%.
Jerry Weeden:Wow.
Margie Mason:And look at the detail here that they put.
Jerry Weeden:Scars on forehead, on left elbow, shoulder, scar on a little … They even look at the man’s toes, so you pretty much have to strip naked. Just let me look at your old body, and we’re going to document every scar you had.
Margie Mason:Because back then, right, they weren’t taking pictures or anything, so this was like, if he escaped-
Jerry Weeden:That’s his photograph. This is how we’re going to identify him. Pull his shirt up. Take his shoes off.
Margie Mason:I haven’t found any photos of Shelah, but I do have a copy of the picture that Travis Turner showed me, the one with the single Black prisoner surrounded by armed white men looking proud of themselves. I know this is something Jerry will want to see.

This was the stockade, and this is the only picture that we know. And this stockade is where Sheely Doss would’ve spent his year.

Jerry stares at the photo.
Jerry Weeden:Wow, and they all oppose him.
Margie Mason:It’s a lot to take in.
Jerry Weeden:It is. I’m not angry, but yeah, you can’t fathom what took place inside of there or how they was treated. Can’t go anywhere. I can’t fight you. I can’t do anything. I just have to take what you give me. That’s deflating to me as a man that, hey, if I do fight back, I’m going to lose my life. To put it in perspective now, some boys are still fighting for our lives, even though we are free.
Margie Mason:Jerry and I follow Shelah’s life after he was released. We can see that as a convicted felon, he lost his right to vote forever.
Jerry Weeden:So, I’m just existing just to exist. I’m nobody. This is one way to silence the voice of a lot of folks.
Margie Mason:Shelah didn’t let his time at the prison coal mine define him. He settled down. He and Fanny, his wife of 50 years, had 10 daughters. He worked hard farming and doing manual labor. He owned a home and lived into his 80s.

There, he died in 1944, and there’s his death certificate. Then it says he was …

He left a legacy that Jerry never even realized existed until now.
Al Letson:Margie and Jerry spent an entire morning at his church going through Shelah Doss’ life on paper, but Jerry wants to see something real. He wants to go to Lone Rock.
Jerry Weeden:It’s amazing just to see this and being this close to us and never knowing what took place here.
Al Letson:That’s coming up next on Reveal.

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Jerry Weeden has just learned that his great-great-grandfather’s name was found in the records of a Tennessee prison stockade, a place where thousands of mostly Black men were forced to work in dangerous coal mines for one of America’s biggest corporations. Many didn’t make it out alive.
Jerry Weeden:I’ve never heard this in my years of going to school. This needs to be told, needs to be known, not just by African Americans, but everyone.
Al Letson:Jerry wants to get a sense of what his ancestor, Shelah Doss, experienced when he was arrested and sent to the mines. That’s what brought him to Tracy City together with Associated Press reporter, Margie Mason,
Margie Mason:Jerry and I have driven just over an hour into the mountains to see what’s left of the harsh environment Shelah Doss encountered, and now, we’re standing in the same Tennessee state park I visited at the beginning of my research, where the Lone Rock Prison Stockade once stood.
Jerry Weeden:Words cannot do justice to what I see and what we see now.
Margie Mason:There are rows of what look like brick pizza ovens dug into an embankment. Some are tall enough to walk inside. They’re coke ovens, and they were used to burn the impurities out of coal for the production of iron.

These coke ovens are everywhere. There’s a whole bunch.
Jerry Weeden:It is. I see it, yeah.
Margie Mason:There’s a ton of them there. This was a major operation.
Jerry Weeden:It’s amazing just being this close to us and never knowing what took place here and just looking at it and just going over what we have talked about so far is just mind-blowing.
Margie Mason:To get a closer look, jerry moves up a steep grassy bank and stops at a coke oven. He reaches up and touches the bricks on top of the dome, then he closes his eyes. Men like Shelah were forced to rake the coke from the floors of the smoldering ovens. The roaring heat and smoke were so intense. It was like working in an inferno.
Jerry Weeden:There’s no way I would survive this. I promise you. I couldn’t. I can put it into words. That’s why I had to touch the oven to just know that, okay, he was here and just try to embody what they felt and what they went through. Even just standing here on this ground, I’m like, “Wow, it’s amazing.” How was life? Yes, it was hard, but yet still, what pulled these guys through this?
Margie Mason:It’s a little surreal. I’m here with Jerry going through this brutal history, while behind us, families are picnicking and kids are swimming in the lake. Across from the coke ovens, Jerry checks out two new historical markers. They spell out how Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad grew rich from men like Shelah Doss.
Jerry Weeden:The property was valued at a million dollars and included 21 miles of railroad track, five locomotives, 500 coal cars, and 120 coke ovens. Good gracious.
Margie Mason:Just then, Camille Westmont joins us.
Camille Westmon…:It is so wonderful to meet you.
Jerry Weeden:How you doing? Yes, ma’am.
Camille Westmon…:Thank you for coming out.
Jerry Weeden:You’re welcome.
Margie Mason:She’s the archeologist who’s been researching Lone Rock, so I wanted her to meet Jerry.
Camille Westmon…:This place has been here for 150 years, but there was never any kind of interpretation as to what it was. And so after I started the archeology project, they came in and put these in.
Jerry Weeden:And we had to face the truth, all people.
Camille Westmon…:This explains so much. Slavery didn’t end with a Civil War.
Jerry Weeden:You are talking my language.
Camille Westmon…:Slavery just kept going.
Jerry Weeden:I just literally said what you’re saying. This is part of my family, so this is big to me that we know this. And you just can’t look at the horrific events that took place and just shut down because you got to deal with this hurt. And a lot of folks don’t want to deal with this hurt to heal.
Margie Mason:We move from the coke ovens up a hill and into the woods where the prison complex once stood. Camille points out where the dining hall used to be. It doubled as the prison church.

We’re standing kind of in the church area.
Camille Westmon…:Yeah, just about.
Jerry Weeden:Hallelujah! Bless us, Jesus.
Margie Mason:Jerry needs a moment.
Jerry Weeden:I’m over here just listening to things that are dropping or whatever it is going on in here, and I can just imagine these men being here and just … I wonder, did they hear the same thing we here? I’m sorry, just pay me no mind.
Margie Mason:We spend the whole day exploring Shelah Doss’ life. As we’re about to leave, Jerry tells me he rode his motorcycle through this area just a few days earlier, but he had no idea what happened here or how it touched his own family.
Jerry Weeden:Now, every time, if we do come this way, I will never forget this place.
Margie Mason:I researched the names of more than 100 people who are sent to Lone Rock like Shelah Doss, but finding their descendants was difficult. I kept hitting dead ends. For now, Jerry is the only person I’ve met whose ancestor was imprisoned at the stockade, but I find someone else whose family history leads back to Lone Rock in a very different way.
Frances Moulder:My name is Frances Moulder. I’m a bit of a writer. I’ve written a few books, and I’m also a bit of an activist.
Margie Mason:Frances is a retired sociology professor who lives in Connecticut, but her roots are in Tennessee. She grew up in Knoxville in the 1950s when racial violence was erupting across the South. She says her parents were involved in supporting the Civil Rights Movement.
Frances Moulder:My understanding of racism at that time was there are these bad individuals, and they hate black people, and there’s no reason for it. And we’re the good people attempting to make things better.
Margie Mason:But it was much more complicated than that. There was another side to her family’s history that she only came to understand later. It centered around her great-granduncle, a man named Thomas O’Connor.
Frances Moulder:When I was a kid growing up, what I really heard was the story of Thomas O’Connor is kind of a colorful figure in town.
Margie Mason:O’Connor was one of the richest men in Tennessee. He died in a shootout in downtown Knoxville in 1882. It was a big deal. The Associated Press wrote about it, and Mark Twain did too in his book, Life on the Mississippi.
Frances Moulder:So, I knew about that, but I did not know that the money that he made was from leasing the convicts and working them for nothing in these coal mines.
Margie Mason:This is how it worked. Thomas O’Connor and his partners paid the state to take all of Tennessee’s prisoners. Then, O’Connor turned around and leased the prisoners out to work at private companies. As a middleman, O’Connor raked in so much money he became one of the owners of Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad. That’s the company that owned the Lone Rock Stockade and coal mines. Frances says O’Connor’s wealth was squandered well before she was born, but she still benefited from the family’s social capital.
Frances Moulder:I was able to go to college. I went to graduate school. I’ve lived most of my life in the middle class, and part of it is racing right back to that family history.
Margie Mason:Now in her 70s, Francis says she feels an obligation to speak out, so she’s writing articles and posting them online about her family’s complicity in convict leasing. She’s described how her great grandparents live near Lone Rock in Tracy City, and that prisoners from the stockade were forced to work as servants in their home.
Frances Moulder:It was a family enterprise. This is something that I was benefiting from and connected to.
Margie Mason:Frances is also volunteering to help Camille Westmont build the online database with the names of the people sent to the stockade.
Frances Moulder:Their names have just been lost to history. They suffered there. They died there, and I think, “Oh, Thomas O’Connor put these people in the ground,” Who are they?
Margie Mason:I told Jerry Weeden about Frances and her family. He was interested and said one day, he’d like to meet her.
Jerry Weeden:What would come from this if we really just sit down and just talked about this? It would do great for both parties as healing.
Margie Mason:Jerry says, talking with Frances is one thing, but he’d really like to see action from the state of Tennessee. It’s about accountability. While there are growing calls nationwide for reparations to address racial injustices, Jerry says it all starts with a formal acknowledgment.
Jerry Weeden:For me, money is not the big issue. It’s having the dialogue and to be transparent and to say, “Hey, yes, we did do this,” to bring to light what the state has done. I think this is something that needs to be done publicly to let everyone know that this took place. It actually did. We can’t go back in time, but we can tell those families we’re sorry.
Margie Mason:Tennessee has never officially apologized for convict leasing, but there’s a push to challenge language in the state constitution that gave the system legal cover. It says slavery and involuntary servitude are banned except as punishment for a crime.
Raumesh Akbari:People are surprised that, hey, there still is an exception for slavery in our constitution.
Margie Mason:State senator, Raumesh Akbari, introduced an amendment to the Tennessee constitution that would remove this exception. This is Akbari speaking on the floor of the Tennessee Senate last year.
Raumesh Akbari:It will close a loophole that will forever eliminate any exception for slavery in the state of Tennessee, and I think that’s what we want.
Margie Mason:But she faced opposition from fellow lawmakers, even a denial that this exception was real.
Speaker 13:I just think it’s ultimately fake history to be telling our voters that the 1870 constitution allowed slavery. It clearly did not.
Speaker 14:I can’t explain this amendment, and I don’t understand it, so I guess I’ll be voting no on this.
Margie Mason:Tennessee isn’t alone in this effort. Other states are challenging similar language. So are lawmakers in Washington. They want to remove the same exception that’s in the 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Both sides of the legislature in Tennessee ultimately approved Akbari’s amendment that would ban slavery for everyone, including people sent to prison. It goes before voters in November.
Raumesh Akbari:I’m happy that there’s been a lot of chatter around the constitutional amendment. We have to preserve and learn about this history. This is our history. Good, bad, ugly, it’s our history.
Margie Mason:The day after Jerry and I visit the place where his ancestor was imprisoned, I’m back at his church in Murfreesboro. It’s Sunday morning, and they’re testing the PA system for Jerry’s 8:00 AM sermon. Jerry is in a suit and tie. He’s laughing, shaking hands with people, and giving hugs. His family’s here too.
Jerry Weeden:Church say amen. Let the church say amen. No, come on. We can do better. Let the church say, amen.
Margie Mason:Jerry’s up at the pulpit microphone in hand.
Jerry Weeden:How many of us [inaudible]?
Margie Mason:A couple dozen people are seated in the wooden pews.
Jerry Weeden:How many of us [inaudible]?
Margie Mason:He’s getting the congregation going.
Jerry Weeden:You glad to be here this morning? Anybody got something to say thank you for over here? I got to find out where I’m going to stand at today. Anybody over here glad to be here today? Come on. Anybody over here glad? Yeah, you just didn’t wake up just to wake up. You woke because God is going to use you today.
Margie Mason:This church has quite a history. About a hundred years ago, the federal government threatened to demolish it to make way for a park commemorating a major Civil War battle at Stones River. So, the congregation got together. They moved the church by hand to the place where it now stands. As Jerry winds down his message, he touches on this story.
Jerry Weeden:Your forefathers that planted this place were told by the government if you don’t move it, we’re going to burn it down. And I thank God that someone stood right there, looked them in the face, and said, “Not this place.” And how many of us will do the same thing, have enough strength to look Hell in the face and say, “Not today”? You got to stand flatfooted, look trouble right in the face, not today.
Margie Mason:Jerry sees a powerful connection between the tenacity of his church and the story he’s just learned about his ancestor, Shelah Doss.
Jerry Weeden:Yesterday, we took a trip that was life-changing. I got to see where they imprisoned my great-great-grandfather and the things that they did in Tracy City. From that, I got to embody what they went through. It is amazing that these things happen this close to home, but we never hear about it. I don’t want to let this die.

I want to know where did I come from, who am I. This is really putting the puzzle pieces together for me to understand that the man I’ve become is from them. Without Shelah, there would be no me.
Al Letson:Shelah Doss left Lone Rock in 1886, and the prison shut down a decade later. But the Tennessee coal mining company didn’t stop using forced labor. It moved south to Alabama, where it would merge with one of America’s biggest corporations, one that’s still a powerful force today, U.S. Steel.
Ellen Spencer:They profited from this system. And to this day, they have not acknowledged that they were wrong.
Al Letson:That’s coming up next on Reveal.
Michael Montgom…:Hi, my name is Michael Montgomery, and I’m a producer and reporter here at Reveal. Reveal is a nonprofit news organization, and we depend on support from our listeners. Donate today at revealnews.org/donate. Thank you so much.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson.

In 1960, the United States Steel Corporation put out a promotional film celebrating its early beginnings in the South. It opens with three soldiers gathered around a campfire, lamenting losing the Civil War.
Speaker 17:The war all finished, and the South is finished.
Speaker 18:The South finished?
Al Letson:But they’re hopeful.
Speaker 18:You know what’s underneath here? Coal. The coal and iron and ore is going to build a new South. I don’t say it will be easy, but I do say that these sorry looking little one new coal mines of ours someday will bring a whole new way of life to the South.
Al Letson:The film is triumphant, redemptive, and incomplete. The coal and iron that helped rebuild the South, it would come from work done in part by thousands of prisoners like Shelah Doss. The film doesn’t mention convict leasing or those who died in the mines. Margie’s reporting partner at the Associated Press, Robin McDowell, has been focusing on this ugly chapter of the company’s history. She takes the story from here.
Robin McDowell:Convict leasing was being used across the South, but in the late 1800s, it started to get a bad name in Tennessee. Coal miners were tired of competing for their jobs against unpaid prisoners. And when they tried to strike for higher wages, prisoners were brought in and used as scabs. Eventually, those mostly white miners pushed back.
Pete Seeger:So one dark night, several hundred miners walked down to the prison stockade, and at gunpoint, they demanded the warden free all the prisoners.
Robin McDowell:That’s the late folk singer Pete Seeger, telling the story of this coal miner rebellion.
Pete Seeger:And there was a song down there that told more of the story. Way back yonder in Tennessee, they leased the convicts out. Put them working in the mine against free labor stout. Free labor rebelled against it-
Robin McDowell:These uprisings by free miners were violent and sometimes deadly, and they cost the state and companies a lot of money. They also soured public opinion, helping pave the way for an end to convict leasing in Tennessee. That was a big problem for Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad. The company relied heavily on this cheap labor. The solution was just a state away, Alabama.

In 1895, TCI, as the company was known, moved its headquarters to Birmingham. The state was perfect. It had rich deposits of coal and all the other minerals needed to make iron and steel. And here, convict leasing was still booming. At the time, it made up more than 70% of Alabama’s total revenue. But things didn’t go as planned. The economy faltered. TCI found itself deep in debt, and eventually, it was bought out by its biggest competitor.
Speaker 21:We’re helping build America’s bridges. At United States Steel we are involved.
Robin McDowell:U.S. Steel was founded by the giants of the Gilded Age, Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan. It helped build the nation. Think bridges, railroads, skyscrapers, and it was the first American company to be worth more than $1 billion.
Speaker 22:Making good steel isn’t easy. It takes the best materials, the best machinery, the best men, men who are proud to be called steel men.
Robin McDowell:U.S. Steel took over TCI in 1907. For the next five years, it continued to send prisoners into its mines. I found the names of more than 100 men who died on their watch. State prison reports say some were crushed by falling rock. Some were electrocuted. Many more died of diseases. Other prisoners were killed while trying to escape.

I wanted to know more, so I went looking for answers in a neighborhood in Birmingham called Pratt City. It’s where U.S. Steel’s sprawling mining complex used to be. Hundreds of men once worked side by side here, digging coal with picks or shoveling coke from scorching ovens. On a county map of this area, there’s a small parcel of land marked cemetery with a little cross, but in person, it just looks like a forest next to a park. The cemetery is so overgrown, it’s hard to fight through the brush, but Jack Bergstresser knows his way around here.
Jack Bergstress…:The biggest issue right now is avoiding fallen trees. And you guys might spot some sunken graves or something before I do.
Robin McDowell:Jack first entered these woods back in 1994. He’s an industrial archeologist who was hired to map the remains of coke ovens, mine shafts, and railroad lines for the U.S. government. That’s when he stumbled on what he soon realized was a cemetery.
Tony Bingham:We’ll be making enough noise to avoid any-
Robin McDowell:Snakes.
Tony Bingham:Yeah.
Robin McDowell:Jack’s brought along a friend and fellow Explorer. Tony Bingham is a local college professor and an artist. His work has explored African American grave sites around Birmingham.
Tony Bingham:I think we, as a people, are really in a search for the past. Not to be pulled down by it in certain ways, but how can this site, how can sites like this, if anything, inform us of how not to be as a country, as Americans?
Robin McDowell:We spend about an hour making our way through the brush.
Jack Bergstress…:Nobody has x-ray vision, but these long depressions with oval ends are characteristic of sunken graves.
Robin McDowell:We start to find rows of them, sunken depressions, the kind that are left when people are buried in cheap pine boxes that decompose and collapse underground. Jack and Tony have seen dozens of these graves here and at other sites.
Tony Bingham:I went through the anger phase earlier, and now, I’m more in sort of a preservationist phase to be sure that this site is studied by archeologists and protected.
Robin McDowell:But the graves are getting harder and harder to find.
Jack Bergstress…:The likelihood that this was a convict cemetery is very high, which you don’t know until you set up a systematic archeological survey of this area.
Robin McDowell:More than 20 years ago, Jack brought journalist Doug Blackmon to the same cemetery. Doug wrote a story for the Wall Street Journal and later a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on convict leasing and U.S. Steel’s role in it.
Douglas Blackmon:The company very much so understood they needed to keep those laborers as long as they could, and they fought to do that.
Robin McDowell:But U.S. Steel misrepresented this part of the company’s past and created its own narrative.
Douglas Blackmon:What U.S. Steel decided to do when they talked to me was to blindly latch onto a claim that the company had made 100 years earlier. The claim being that U.S. Steel had, in fact, been an agent for ending these terrible practices in Alabama.
Robin McDowell:The company did end its contracts for convict labor in 1912, 16 years before Alabama became the last state to outlaw the practice. But U.S. Steel didn’t stop leasing prisoners by choice.
Douglas Blackmon:It only stopped because they were outmaneuvered, and other companies successfully won those contracts and boxed out U.S. Steel. As far as I’m aware, U.S. Steel has done absolutely nothing to acknowledge their role in convict leasing. Beyond the most meaningless expression of regret, I’m not aware of the company having done anything whatsoever.
Robin McDowell:I wanted to see what U.S. Steel had to say about all this today in response to our own reporting. At first, I was told no one was available to talk to me, so I sent my questions about the cemetery, the people buried there, and company records from its convict leasing years. I was told U.S. Steel didn’t have a staff historian. After many follow-ups, a spokeswoman confirmed that the company still owns the cemetery, but doesn’t know who’s buried there and has no plans to disturb the site.

Ellen Spencer says she’s had many opportunities to leave Pratt City, but she’s been a resident for the last 30 years.
Ellen Spencer:I love the area. I love my neighbors. We all have challenges. No matter where you live, you have challenges. But we’ve had our share and somebody else’s share too.
Robin McDowell:When U.S. Steel was operating here, it was praised for building up the surrounding community. But the company left decades ago, and there’s little sign of those investments now.
Ellen Spencer:If you notice, one of the things that we do not have here in Pratt is just some of the basic amenities, a grocery store health facility. We don’t have those things here, and that’s something that we’ve been pushing for for the longest.
Robin McDowell:Ellen is Pratt’s community president, and she’s part of a local group that’s working to honor victims of racial violence. She says the history of convict leasing in Pratt is still new to a lot of people.
Ellen Spencer:I think it wasn’t told because it was just so traumatic, and they just chose not to relive it.
Robin McDowell:The group is making a quilt and working to erect a historic marker near the main library. She thinks a lot would change if companies like U.S. Steel started talking honestly about the past.
Ellen Spencer:I think it would be better if those companies would come out and say, we were here, and we didn’t do everything that we could have done, but we are acknowledging now that we need to assist you all with building up the area. But they have not.
Robin McDowell:A couple weeks before this story was going to air, U.S. Steel finally had something to say. They sent me a statement that I wanted to share with Ellen.

I just wanted to tell you a little bit about what’s happening. So I went back to see her and read the most relevant parts. U.S. Steel does not condone the practices of a century ago. Given the amount of time that has lapsed, we, unfortunately, do not have comprehensive records relative to the situation. We would be pleased to consider a memorial plaque should members of the affected community express an interest. We also would be happy to meet with them and discuss these topics.
Ellen Spencer:Okay. As long as U.S. Steel is and was, I can’t believe that they don’t have records, or they didn’t have records of the people that they had as slave labor. That is something I just can’t believe for a company like them.
Robin McDowell:When it comes to honoring victims of convict leasing, other places are putting up memorials, and I had asked U.S. Steel if that was something they would consider for Pratt City. But Ellen says the community needs more than a symbolic gesture.
Ellen Spencer:A plaque, no way. No. No. Lives were lost. No, I’m sorry. If they want to be fair or show some compassion or show that we are sorry for what happened, there are many areas here in Pratt that can be upgraded, and U.S. Steel has the funds to do it. This is their opportunity to do something for the community.
Robin McDowell:Ellen says she and other community members would welcome a meeting with U.S. Steel, but she says any kind of community project that doesn’t address the actual history here would miss the point.
Ellen Spencer:History is, whether it’s good or bad, it’s your history. They want to push it under the rug with a plaque, probably a ceremony, and we’ll be out of their hair. That won’t work.
Al Letson:Ellen’s home is just a couple miles from the coal mines that U.S. Steel operated more than a century ago. The abandoned cemetery is the only reminder of this past, but thousands of men were forced to work at these mines, and their stories should not be lost. It’s U.S. Steel’s story too, and Alabama, and Tennessee’s. The question now is how will it be told.

Our lead producer for this week’s show was Michael Montgomery. Cynthia Rodriguez edited this episode along with Jenny Casas. We have production and research support from Alexander Richie and Carmen White. The show was produced in collaboration with the Associated Press. Special thanks to Robin, Margie, and their editor, Ron Nixon. The AP team had support from Columbia University’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights in conjunction with Arnold Ventures.

Nikki Frank is our fact-checker. She had help from Kim Freda. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy Mostafa. Score and sound designed by the dynamic duo Jay Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man, yo, Arruda. Our post-production team this week also includes Kathryn Styer Martinez and Steven Rascón. Our digital producer is Sarah Mirk. Our interim CEO is Robert Rosenthal. Our interim executive producers are Taki Telonidis and Brett Myers. Our theme music is by Camerado-Lightning.

Support for Reveal’s provided by the Reva & David Logan Foundation, the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 26:From PRX.

Michael Montgomery

Michael Montgomery is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. He has led collaborations with the Associated Press, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Frontline, KQED and others.

Previously, Montgomery was a senior reporter at American Public Media, a special correspondent for the BBC and an associate producer with CBS News. He began his career in eastern Europe, covering the fall of communism and wars in former Yugoslavia for the Daily Telegraph and Los Angeles Times. His investigations into human rights abuses in the Balkans led to the arrest and conviction of Serbian and Albanian paramilitaries and creation of a new war crimes court based in The Hague. Montgomery’s honors include Murrow, Peabody, IRE, duPont, Third Coast and Overseas Press Club awards. He is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Najib Aminy is a producer for Reveal. Previously, he was an editor at Flipboard, a news aggregation startup, and helped guide the company’s editorial and curation practices and policies. Before that, he spent time reporting for newspapers such as Newsday and The Indianapolis Star. He is the host and producer of an independent podcast, "Some Noise," which is based out of Oakland, California, and was featured by Apple, The Guardian and The Paris Review. He is a lifelong New York Knicks fan, has a soon-to-be-named kitten and is a product of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Aminy is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Cynthia Rodriguez

Cynthia Rodriguez is a senior radio editor for Reveal. She is an award-winning journalist who came to Reveal from New York Public Radio, where she spent nearly two decades covering everything from the city’s dramatic rise in family homelessness to police’s fatal shootings of people with mental illness.

In 2019, Rodriguez was part of Caught, a podcast that documents how the problem of mass incarceration starts with the juvenile justice system. Caught received an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award for outstanding journalism in the public interest. Her other award-winning stories include investigations into the deaths of construction workers during New York City's building boom and the “three-quarter house” industry – a network of independent, privately run buildings that pack vulnerable people into unsanitary, overcrowded buildings in exchange for their welfare funds.

In 2013, Rodriguez was one of 13 journalists to be selected as a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, where her study project was on the intersection of poverty and mental health. She is based in New York City but is originally from San Antonio, Texas, and considers both places home.

Jenny Casas is a radio editor for Reveal. She was previously a narrative audio producer at The New York Times developing shows for the Opinion Department. She was in the inaugural cohort of AIR's Edit Mode: Story Editor Training. She has reported on the ways that cities systematically fail their people for WNYC, USA Today, City Bureau and St. Louis Public Radio. Casas is from California and is based in Chicago.

Nikki Frick is the associate editor for research and copy for Reveal. She previously worked as a copy editor at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and held internships at The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and Washingtonpost.com. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was an American Copy Editors Society Aubespin scholar. Frick is based in Milwaukee.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Sarah Mirk (she/her) is a digital engagement producer for Reveal. Since 2017, she has worked as an editor at The Nib, an online daily comics publication focused on political cartoons, graphic journalism, essays and memoirs about current affairs. She works with artists to create nonfiction comics on a variety of complex topics, from personal narratives about queer identities to examinations of overlooked history. Before that, Mirk was the online editor of national feminist media outlet Bitch, a podcast host and a local news reporter. She is also the author of several books, including “Year of Zines,” a collection of 100 handmade zines, and “Guantanamo Voices,” a collection of illustrated oral histories of the world’s most infamous prison. Mirk is based in Portland, Oregon.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.

Steven Rascón (he/they) is a production assistant for Reveal. He is pursuing a master's degree at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism with a Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy Fellowship. His focus is investigative reporting and audio documentary. He has written for online, magazines and radio. His reporting on underreported fentanyl overdoses in Los Angeles' LGBTQ community aired on KCRW and KQED. Rascón is passionate about telling diverse stories for radio through community engagement. He holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater arts and creative writing.

Taki Telonidis is an interim executive producer for Reveal. Previously, he was the media producer for the Western Folklife Center, where he created more than 100 radio features for NPR’s "All Things Considered," "Weekend Edition" and other news magazines. He has produced and directed three public television specials, including "Healing the Warrior’s Heart," a one-hour documentary that explores how the ancient spiritual traditions of our nation’s first warriors, Native Americans, are helping today’s veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Telonidis also was senior content editor for NPR’s "State of the Re:Union." Before moving to the West, he worked for NPR in Washington, where he was senior producer of "Weekend All Things Considered" between 1994 and 1998. His television and radio work has garnered a George Foster Peabody Award, three Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards and the Overseas Press Club Award for breaking news. Telonidis is based in Salt Lake City.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.