Slavery in 1921?

This book focuses on a piece of history that Freeman’s friend found and shared with him. “A friend had been looking through some historical material on his family in the area of middle Georgia where these events took place, and he found a brief account of the killings in a local history book” (Freeman 92). Deeply affected by this story, it was one Morgan knew he had to tell. Read this story to learn about the concealed system of slavery. 

The year is 1921, and the places are Jasper and Newton Counties in central Georgia. These two counties become widely known due to the horrific murders of eleven plantation slaves. The accused, John S. Williams and Clyde Manning, are on trial for these horrendous murders. This loss of human life occurred as the result of peonage.

In 1865, the institution of slavery officially ended in the United States, but unofficially, it did not.  This unofficial form of slavery was known as peonage. Peonage was a system in which “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” (Freeman 60). This was the situation for Clyde Manning and other African-Americans on the Williams’ plantation. For whatever “crime” they committed, these individuals wound up on the plantation and never left. 

Freeman allows his readers to clearly understand the racial dynamics between whites and blacks during the time in which these murders occurred. Also, the way Freeman describes these murders are quite vivid but not in a good way. The details are horrific, and heartbreaking. As a reader, this is what made this novel extremely difficult for me to read. In fact, I almost stopped reading this novel, but I was determined to finish reading it because I wanted to know the fate of these two men after the jury rendered its verdict. If you want to learn about a hidden piece of history, then this novel is for you.

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