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Title:Law, Labor, and Land in the Postbellum Cotton South: The Peonage Cases in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, 1865--1940
Author(s):Karnes, Miller Handley
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Burton, Orville Vernon
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):History, Black
Abstract:In 1898 the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted William Eberhart for violating the Peonage Statute of 1867. This was the first federal case of peonage (debt labor) in the South. During the next ten years, the federal government investigated and prosecuted hundreds of employers across the South for practicing peonage. Although the literature discusses some of the important peonage cases, it lacks an analysis of how peonage developed and why it declined as a practice in the South. In addition, did debt-labor cases have a geographic pattern? To answer these questions, I investigate labor relations and the peonage cases in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, from 1865--1940. This dissertation examines the interactions of three groups: landowners, the federal government, and African Americans. I argue that in the 1890s a new generation of planters rose to power in Oglethorpe County and unabashedly manipulated the legal system to keep African Americans on the plantation. These landowners were children during the Civil War and therefore never owned slaves. Most of the landowners practicing peonage lived in the western half of Oglethorpe County, near railroads. Moreover, peonage tended to occur in districts where African Americans owned less land. Seeking to maintain the modicum of independence that they had gained during Reconstruction, African Americans contested landowners' use of law. By writing letters and testifying to the federal government, African Americans appealed to Republican administrations for help. The federal governments' prosecutions rarely succeeded in punishing offending landowners. The Justice Department failed to understand the connection between disfranchisement and peonage. However, the efforts of the federal government and African Americans did succeed in rescuing some blacks from the immediate grips of landowners. Initiated by landowners, peonage was ended by outside social and economic forces. After World War I, the boll weevil devastated cotton agriculture in Oglethorpe County. In addition to the boll weevil, the Great Depression and the mechanization of agriculture spelled the end of the cotton plantations of Oglethorpe County. The decline of the cotton plantations destroyed the practice of peonage.
Issue Date:2000
Description:253 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2000.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI9990036
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:2000

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