Peonage, also called debt slavery or debt servitude, is a system where an employer compels a worker to pay off a debt with work. Legally, peonage was outlawed by Congress in 1867. However, after Reconstruction, many Southern black men were swept into peonage though different methods, and the system was not completely eradicated until the 1940s.
In some cases, employers advanced workers some pay or initial transportation costs, and workers willingly agreed to work without pay in order to pay it off. Sometimes those debts were quickly paid off, and a fair wage worker/employer relationship established.
In many more cases, however, workers became indebted to planters (through sharecropping loans), merchants (through credit), or company stores (through living expenses). Workers were often unable to re-pay the debt, and found themselves in a continuous work-without-pay cycle.
But the most corrupt and abusive peonage occurred in concert with southern state and county government. In the south, many black men were picked up for minor crimes or on trumped-up charges, and, when faced with staggering fines and court fees, forced to work for a local employer would who pay their fines for them. Southern states also leased their convicts en mass to local industrialists. The paperwork and debt record of individual prisoners was often lost, and these men found themselves trapped in inescapable situations.
91:25Just two quick points.One is I think there has been a tensionthroughout American history between prophetic religionand what you could call the alternative.Liturgically, you could call it law-based.And the African-American church has alwayspartaken of the prophetic.And I’ve always found that you can–if you’re talking about talking to a Christian,you know which side they are on by whether they quote Micah,Isaiah, and Amos or Leviticus.And whether they–[LAUGHTER]–quote– whether they quote the social passages of the NewTestament or the conversion passages of the New Testament.And I think you saw that in the fight over slavery.You saw that over social justice issuesin the progressive era in the ’30s.I mean, you saw it in the Civil Rights years.I think that’s a deep tension that’s always runningthrough American religion.100:21that obviously, slave owners wanted their slavesto be Christians, but that they were–I remember reading this.I haven’t seen evidence of it.That they actually had Bibles printed upfor slaves, in which the Bible was printed,but the Book of Exodus was left out.Yeah.Oh, OK.I’ve heard that, yes.I want to get that on display somewhere.I’ve heard that, as well.And what’s fascinating is how deeply important the bookof Exodus is in every African-American church,and how central it is African-American preaching,for obvious reasons.I mean, “let my people go.”But yes.I’m going to try to remember where I have found thisbecause there were very–the first slave owners tried to keep the slaves illiterate,and actually didn’t want them reading the whole Biblebecause the Bible is very dangerous.And there was often a tradition of one slave, at least,becoming literate.And the original African-American churcheswere in the woods, and they were–and the slaves were very conscious of those partsof scripture that pointed to the freedom.And so I think, in some cases, they were limited Bibles.But in a lot of cases, the effortwas to keep the slaves illiterate sothat they would only hear the parts,say, of Saint Paul, that said slaves, obey your masters,and that sort of thing.Which was the part that influenced Billy Graham whenhe spoke in Moscow— in Russia.Spoke in Russia, yeah.Thank you.
Susan Neiman, Berlin-based director of the Einstein Forum, moral philosopher and the author of Learning from the Germans: Race and the Memory of Evil (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), talks about what the U.S. can learn from Germany’s post-war reckoning.
Notes on an Imagined Plaque to be Added to the Statue of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Upon Hearing that the Memphis City Counci has Voted to Move it and the Exhumed Remains of General Forrest and his Wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, from their Current Location in a Park Downtown, to the Nearby Elmwood Cemetery
Episode 8 of the 2015 Summer Season
* Under the credits is Harlaamstrat 74 off of John Dankworth’s Modesty Blaise score.
* First up (and returning at the end) is Sandra’s Theme, from Heather McIntosh’s fantastic score to Compliance, a very good, very disturbing movie.
* We hit Frank Glazer leading Charles Ives’ Largo for Clarinet, Violin and Pianoa couple of times, framing…
* Runaway from Olafur Arnalds.
*The key to researching this episode turned out to be an article in The Journal of Southern History from 2001 by Court Carnay called, “The Contested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest.”.
* Also particularly useful was Nathan Bedford Forrest: a Biography, by Jack Hurst.
* As was Lynching in America: A History in Documents, compiled by Christopher Waldrep.
* Much of my information about the contents of the ceremony and speeches was gathered from this, the digitized journal and scrapbook of Charles Henry Niehaus, the sculptor of the monument. It’s an extraordinary resource.
* And let us all read Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases, by Ida B. Wells. And let’s put her on the $10 while we’re at it.