lay this body down

from Gregory A. Freeman’s introduction to his novel, Lay This Body Down The 1921 Murders of Eleven Plantation Slaves:

From the moment of birth, we Southerners are immersed in the history of our homeland, and the focal point is always the Civil War. We can’t travel ten miles without running across a battlefield, a marker commemorating a historic Civil War event, or a monument to fallen Confederate soldiers. The Civil War is seen as the defining moment in our history, a moment that abruptly shifted the region from one way of life to another.

But within all the history there is a lie. The lie, told to Southerners and everyone else, is that slavery disappeared after Appomattox. It did not. Slavery existed well into the twentieth century in America, in the form of peonage, whereby blacks were fined for vagrancy or other supposed crimes and then forced to work off the debt on local farms for what often became a lifetime of brutal conditions. For those trapped in peonage, the technical distinction between themselves and the slaves of a previous generation was meaningless.

A ‘snippet’ from the book:

Over the years the federal government had received several reports of peonage in Jasper County, but agents were in no hurry to investigate the Williams plantation until 1921, when Gus Chapman showed up at the downtown Atlanta office of the federal Bureau of Investigation.

. . . The agents told Chapman to sit down and tell his story. He started by telling them that he had come from a farm in Jasper County where he had been held against his will, and he said many more were still being held there. Then he went back to the beginning, to tell the agents how he had been imprisoned by Mr. Johnny.

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2 Comments

  1. I must get a copy of lay this body down–I have re-read parts of Wilbur Cash’s Mind of the South, and intend to re-read The Peculiar Institution by Kenneth Stampp. I also bought Carl Rowan’s Go South to Sorrow.

    I read all three in the fall of 1968 when I was in a “History of the South” class but I’ve forgotten much.

    Just finished Plum Wine–it is a sad and lovely story.

    Mostly I am just sad that there is not a movie out that I want to see — here’s hoping for next weekend.

    Reply
    • It has been years (and years) since I read Cash’s Mind of the south (should re-read). Adding to my To-Read list are the others you mentioned. I always love knowing what others are reading and your recommendations are always those I consider (can’t underline always – but consider it important to stress!).

      Plum Wine has been on my Amazon Wish List for ages (of course, my Wish List numbers thousands of books!).

      Reply

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