"THE NIGHTMARE AND HORRORS OF THE CHAIN GANG"
BURNS, Robert E. I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang! New York: Vanguard, 1932. Octavo, original cloth, original dust jacket. $4000.
First edition of Burns' searing account of the deadly brutality of Georgia chain gangs, published amidst the Great Depression, basis for the Oscar-nominated 1932 Warner Brothers' film starring Paul Muni that launched a new film genre.
After Burns fought in WWI, the penniless shell-shocked veteran was arrested in 1922 "for unwittingly assisting two small-time crooks in robbing a small neighborhood grocery store" in Georgia that netted less than six dollars (Nollen, Glenda Farrell). Sentenced to 6-10 years hard labor, virtually a death sentence, he escaped and fled to Chicago, where he became a successful businessman. Re-arrested in 1929, Burns was sent to an even more brutal prison camp. After another dramatic escape, he "decided to tell the truth about Georgia's corrupt system" with a series in True Detective Magazine (1931) and this expanded account, the first in book form (Chermak & Bailey, Crimes of the Centuries, 127). He used an alias as adviser on the 1932 Oscar-nominated film starring Paul Muni, but was arrested after its premiere, only to be freed with proof of an earlier plea agreement. The film is Warner Brothers' gritty "filmmaking at its finest… historian Richard Schickel called I am a Fugitive 'maybe the greatest they ever did'" (Graham & Monteith, New Encyclopedia, 274). While the book and film are credited with "forcing the Georgia penal system to abolish chain gangs… it wasn't until 1963 that sweeping and permanent reforms were made" (Erickson, Any Resemblance, 91). Contemporary owner inscription dated July 1932.
Book fine; shallow chipping minimally affecting lettering, minor tape reinforcement to verso of extremely scarce very good dust jacket.