This is an excerpt from the ch apter entitled "A Different American History":
I knew from my research for this book that in the South, black prison inmates were sold to landowners to work the land. These inmates had no rights and were the property of the landowner who bought them. My research also introduced me to the term “peonage” (see below), but I had never heard anything like what Mom Stein described. Douglas A. Blackmon’s book, “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” is “a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the “Age of Neoslavery,” the American period following the Emancipation Proclamation in which convicts, mostly black men, were “leased” through forced labor camps operated by state and federal governments.” Here’s an excerpt from that book:
Slavery v. Peonage
“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 through 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 who would 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.” (Blackmon, n.d.)
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