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Worse Than Slavery - David M. Oshinsky

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内容提示: “Worse Than Slavery”P ARCHMAN F ARM AND THE O RDEAL OF J IMC ROW J USTICEDAVID M. OSHINSKYFREE PRESS PAPERBACKSPublished by Simon & SchusterNew York2 FREE PRESS PAPERBACKSA Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.1230 Avenue of the AmericasNew York, NY 10020Copyright © 1996 by David OshinskyAll rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part inany form.First Free Press Paperbacks Edition 1997FREE PRESS PAPERBACKS and colophon are trademarks of Simon &Schuster Inc.Designed by Car...

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“Worse Than Slavery”P ARCHMAN F ARM AND THE O RDEAL OF J IMC ROW J USTICEDAVID M. OSHINSKYFREE PRESS PAPERBACKSPublished by Simon & SchusterNew York2 FREE PRESS PAPERBACKSA Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.1230 Avenue of the AmericasNew York, NY 10020Copyright © 1996 by David OshinskyAll rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part inany form.First Free Press Paperbacks Edition 1997FREE PRESS PAPERBACKS and colophon are trademarks of Simon &Schuster Inc.Designed by Carla BolteManufactured in the United States of America10Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataOshinsky, David M., 1944-Worse than slavery: Parchman farm and the ordeal of Jim Crow justice/David M. Oshinsky.p. cm.Includes bibliographical references and index.1. Mississippi State Penitentiary—History. 2. Criminal justice,Administration of—Mississippi—History. 3. Prisoners—Mississippi—History. I. Title.HV9476.M72M576 1996365′.9762—dc20 95-52880CIPISBN-13: 97806848309573 eISBN-13: 978-1-439-10774-4ISBN-10: 9781439107744ISBN-13: 978-0-684-83095-7 (Pbk.)ISBN-10: 0-684-83095-7 (Pbk.)Grateful acknowledgment is made of permission to reproduce illustrationsfrom the following sources: Mississippi Department of Archives and History,pages 2, 7-9, 10(top), 11-13, and 15; Library of Congress (DocumentaryPortrait of Mississippi: The Thirties, edited by Patti Carr Black, 1982), pages,3, 4, 5, and 6 (top); archives of Parchman Penitentiary, pages 1, 10 (bottom),and 16; Samuel Charters, The Blues Makers, 1991, page 14.www.SimonandSchuster.com4 FOR MY SON MATTHEW, a father’s jewelThe abuses of [our criminal justice] system have often been dwelt upon. Ithad the worst aspects of slavery without any of its redeeming features. Theinnocent, the guilty, and the depraved were herded together, children andadults, men and women, given into complete control of practicallyirresponsible men, whose sole object was to make the most money possible.—Frank Sanborn, keynote address, in Ninth Atlanta Conference on NegroCrime (edited by W. E. B. Du Bois), 1904The convict’s condition [following the Civil War] was much worse thanslavery. The life of the slave was valuable to his master, but there was nofinancial loss … if a convict died.—L. G. Shivers, “A History of the Mississippi Penitentiary,” 1930The most profitable prison farming on record thus far is in the State ofMississippi … which received in 1918 a net revenue of $825,000…. Givenits total of 1,200 prisoners—and subtracting invalids, cripples, orincompetents—it made a profit over $800 for each working prisoner.—Proceedings of the Annual Congress of the American Prison Association,1919I have visited Parchman repeatedly and I have found that their cotton wasvery profitable but that profit was secured by reducing the men to a conditionof abject slavery.—Hastings Hart, reporting to the Russell Sage Foundation, 1929On the whole, the conditions under which prisoners live in [Parchman], theiroccupation and routine of living, are closer by far to the methods of the largeantebellum plantation worked by numbers of slaves than to those of thetypical prison.—David Cohn, Where I Was Born and Raised, 1935One … he’s a gitten’ de leather,Two … he don’t know no better,Three … cry niggah, stick yo’ finger in yo’ eye,Four … niggah thought he had a knife,Five … got hit off’n his visitin’ wife,Six … now he’ll git time for life,Seven … lay it on trusty man!5 Eight … wham! wham! he gotta wu’k tomorra,Nine … he gotta chop cotton in de sun,Ten … dat’s all, trusty men, you’s done.—The cadence of “Black Annie,” the strap used at Parchman FarmSelf-supporting prison systems must, in the end, become slave camps.Slavery is the partner of the lash. The wielder of the lash is brutalized alongwith the victim, and brutes will sometimes kill.—Southern Regional Council, The Delta Prisons: Punishment for Profit,19686 ContentsAcknowledgmentsProloguePART ONE: AFTER SLAVERY, BEFORE PARCHMAN1. Emancipation2. The Mississippi Plan3. American Siberia4. The White ChiefPART TWO: THE PARCHMAN ERA5. The Birth and Birthplace6. Parchman Farm7. The Other Parchman: White Men, Black Women8. Going Home9. Executioner’s Song10. A Farm with SlavesEpilogueNotesIndex7 AcknowledgmentsThis project began in the reading room of the Mississippi Department ofArchives and History in Jackson—a wonderfully supportive environment. Iwould like to thank Hank Holmes, Nancy Bounds, and the reference staff formaking a northerner feel very much at home. I am especially grateful to AnneLipscomb Webster for her skill, her interest, and her boundless energy. I amindebted as well to archivists at the University of Mississippi Library; theSouthern History Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill;the Library of Congress; and the Barker History Center at the University ofTexas, Austin.A number of Mississippians provided support along the way. Jan Hillegasgenerously shared her research on lynchings and executions. Attorney RonWelch took me to Parchman, tutored me about prison issues, and showed methe finer side of Southern life and banjo-picking. Vera Richardson helped megather research material. Jim Young and Ed King filled in crucial gaps aboutParchman and civil rights. Parchman officials Dwight Presley and GeneMeally supplied valuable information about the prison; Lieutenant TonyChampion was a superb guide; and longtime inmates James Louis, RobertPhillips, Horace Carter, Delbert Driskill, and Matthew Winter offeredremarkable first-hand testimony about convict life.I would also like to acknowledge Rutgers University for supplying researchand travel funds during the life of this project, and the National Endowmentfor the Humanities for its generous senior fellowship. At Rutgers, my closefriends and generous colleagues, Willam O’Neill and Maurice Lee, were asource of strength for me in difficult times, and Chris Stacey did superb workas a research assistant.At The Free Press, I have had the rare pleasure of working with a fine copysupervisor, Loretta Denner, as well as with two superb editors and goodfriends. Joyce Seltzer played the major role in getting this book off theground. Her enthusiasm was contagious; her patience more than I deserved.When Joyce left for Harvard University Press, Bruce Nichols stepped in andbrought the book to conclusion. I owe Bruce, in particular, a debt of gratitude8 that he alone understands.My agent, Gerry McCauley, provided encouragement, support, andfriendship in expert doses. He has the overwhelming respect of the authors herepresents because of the personal and professional interest he takes in theirlives.Finally, I would like to acknowledge my parents for their love and endlessgenerosity; my children, Matthew, Efrem, and Ari, for the joy they provideand the patience they have shown; and Jane Rudes, for making my daily lifebrighter in more ways than I can possibly list—or repay.9 PrologueNortherners, provincials that they are, regard the South as one largeMississippi. Southerners, with their eye for distinction, place Mississippi in aclass by itself.—V. O. Key, Jr.IThroughout the American South, Parchman Farm is synonymous withpunishment and brutality, as well it should be. Parchman is the statepenitentiary of Mississippi, a sprawling 20,000-acre plantation in the richcotton land of the Yazoo Delta. Its legend has come down from manysources: the work chants and field hollers of the black prisoners who toiledthere; the Delta blues of ex-convicts like Eddie “Son” House and Huddie“Leadbelly” Ledbetter; the novels of William Faulkner, Eudora Welty,Shelby Foote, and, most recently, John Grisham, who seem almostmesmerized by the mystique of the huge Delta farm. One of Faulkner’scharacters in The Mansion, a young attorney, tells his luckless client: “It’sParchman … destination doom…. You can’t escape. You can’t make it.” AndWashington “Bukka” White, who served hard time there, sings these wordsin his “Parchman Farm Blues”:Oh listen men: I didn’t mean no harmIf you want to do good … stay offthe Parchman Farm.” 1Parchman is the quintessential penal farm, the closest thing to slavery thatsurvived the Civil War. Its story covers the bleak panorama of race andpunishment in the darkest corner of the South. It begins in antebellum times,on the Mississippi frontier, though Parchman itself would not be constructeduntil 1904. And it continues to this day, a story filled with warnings andconsequences, and perhaps lessons, for a nation deeply divided, black andwhite.II10 In the fall of 1833, a local judge wrote to Mississippi governor Charles Lynchabout an “unfortunate circumstance” in his jurisdiction. During a routinestreet brawl, he explained, a quick-tempered fellow named Clark had beatenhis opponent senseless, “and then, drawing his knife, had cut out the eyes ofthe unfortunate man,” leaving him “dependent on the public for his support.”The community wanted to punish Clark, who had escaped “to partsunknown,” the judge added. “We are therefore anxious that you take thissubject into consideration [by offering] a sufficient reward so that he will beapprehended.” 2The governor did not reply. There is no evidence that a reward was offered orthat Clark was ever tried for his offense. The incident was similar to hundredsof others on the isolated Mississippi frontier, where formal authority wasweak, if not invisible, and lethal violence permeated everyday life. “No statein the Union,” complained a local newspaper, “[has] a worse penal code, or amore lax execution of criminal law.” 3This probably was true. Admitted to statehood in 1817, Mississippi hadexperienced an explosive population growth in succeeding decades, as whitefarmers from Georgia and the Carolinas left their worn-out plots for thefertile lands and deep river highways of the “Old Southwest.” By 1840,Mississippi had become the nation’s leading cotton producer, with blackslaves comprising more than half of its 375,000 people. The great bulk ofwhites were rough backcountry folk, well armed, fiercely democratic, deeplysensitive to insults and signs of disrespect. Whiskey flowed freely in theirworld, and personal disputes were often settled in the dirt-floor taverns ordueling fields outside town. Most men “wore pistols and bowieknife,” acontemporary recalled, “and a row once a day was the rule, not theexception.” 4With its cheap, fertile land and scattered rural population, Mississippi had nolarge or medium-sized cities. Only the river ports of Natchez and Vicksburgcould boast of sidewalks, brick buildings, or paved streets before the CivilWar, and neither town had more than 6,500 people. What distinguished bothplaces, however, was the fabulous wealth of their elite new planter class(Natchez was said to have the greatest concentration of millionaires in theSouth) and the lawlessness of their citizens. In his remarkable diary of streetlife in antebellum Natchez, William Johnson chronicled endless shootingsand brawls. Men squared off at the slightest provocation, gouging and biting;using their heads as battering rams; cutting out tongues; hurling bricks;11 swinging swords, canes, and iron bars; stabbing with their dirks; and firingpistols. The diary ended abruptly in 1851, when Johnson himself was shotand killed. 5Even by frontier standards, the violence seemed extreme. Some blamed it onhot weather, heavy drinking, and deadly weapons; others pointed to physicalisolation, obsessions with honor and vengeance, and a system of slave laborthat strengthened the belief that all whites belonged to the master class,making one white man as good as the next. For these reasons, and perhapsmore, fatal duels took a frightful toll among the “gentlemen” of antebellumMississippi, and ordinary killings appeared too numerous to count. In atypical month, a Jackson newspaper reported a “bloody affair” in PortGibson, a “grisly murder” in Jefferson County, “another murder” inVicksburg, a “homicide in Newton,” a “fatal difficulty” in Jackson, an“outrageous murder” in Sunflower County, a “Negro shot dead,” twoassassination attempts, the ambush of a sheriff, and a “domestic squabble” inwhich “Mr. Lockhair, a man generally respected by his neighbors whilesober, was killed by his own son.” 6At times, the local courtrooms became extensions of the streets. In numerouscases, people acquitted of crimes were beaten by waiting crowds until they“confessed.” One man had turpentine poured on his body “to restore hisfeeling senses.” Another was “maimed most inhumanely [with the mob]cutting off his nose and ears and scarifying his body to the very ribs!” InNatchez, a defendant convicted of manslaughter was set upon by the victim’sfamily, “stabbed in three or four places,” crudely dismembered, and left fordead “in the hall of the court.” “What is Mississippi coming to?” the localnewspaper wailed. “It would seem that no man’s life or property is respected.We blush for the name posterity will be forced to ascribe to her.” 7It did not take nearly that long. By the 183Os, Mississippi was viewed as aplace of violent moods and minimal restraint, where passion took precedenceover the law. And that reputation grew ever larger as vigilante groups sprangup to battle street crime in the brawling river towns. In 1835, a “tumultuousmob” dragged six “captured and crestfallen gamblers” to a makeshift gallowsin Vicksburg. “It was the next morning,” a witness reported, “before theirbodies were cut down and buried together in a ditch.” 8The national press soon dubbed Mississippi the “lynching state,” a distinctionit would hold for a century as its victims changed from white to black. In12 1837, an obscure lawyer named Abraham Lincoln charged that “dead men[are] literally hanging from the boughs of trees by every roadside” inMississippi. And Davy Crockett, the legendary frontiersman, described themobs that gathered in Natchez and Vicksburg as “lynchers.” “When anindividual escapes punishment by some technicality of the law, or perpetratesan offense not recognized in courts of justice,” he wrote, “they seize him, andinflict such chastisement as they conceive adequate to the offense.” 9IIICrockett’s words rang true. Though Mississippi had a harsh criminal code inplace, there were not nearly enough sheriffs or judges to enforce it. In 1838Governor Alexander McNutt complained that crime and vigilantism hadreached epidemic proportions because criminals had almost no fear of thelaw. “Very few are brought to trial,” he noted, “and still fewer are punished.”There were but a handful of jails in Mississippi, and the largest one inNatchez was described as a “crumbling dungeon” where prisoners “liegasping in a … state of nudity,” their unwashed bodies “freighted withdisease.” In some counties, the sheriff either leased his inmates to a planter orchained them to a tree. 10The state’s early criminal codes emphasized the swift, painful justice ofcommon law and biblical teachings. “We have but four kinds of punishment,”a Mississippi official admitted: “the whipping post, the pillory, the hot iron,and the halter.” For dozens of offenses, including murder, arson, burglary,forgery, and Negro stealing, the law decreed death at the gallows. For pettytheft, the offender was to be whipped on his bare back or branded on the facewith the letter T. For the crime of mayhem, such as biting off an ear orgouging out an eye, the culprit paid a fine and stood in the stocks for severalhours on successive days. 11These codes lost their impact over time. The penalties were too inflexible andsevere. Juries became squeamish about sentencing common criminals todeath, and governors seemed to pardon all but the most heinous offenders. In1832, for example, a convicted forger was granted executive clemency on thegrounds that capital punishment did not properly fit his crime. A year later,Governor H. G. Runnels set aside the sentence of a Vicksburg woman afterbeing flooded with petitions from her neighbors. The community could notaccept “so horrid an exhibition,” said one, “as the naked back of a decrepitold woman lacerated by the whip of a public executioner.” 1213 This sentiment gained strength in the 183Os as the turmoil of daily life servedto ignite cries for serious reform. The more educated classes worried aboutMississippi’s social stability as well as its image to the rest of the world.“Truly,” warned the Holly Springs Banner, “we are gaining an unenviablecharacter abroad!” 13After bitter debate, the Mississippi legislature revised the state’s criminalcode in 1835, abandoning corporal punishment and restricting the deathpenalty to a handful of major crimes. In their place came “time sentences” ina penitentiary, a humanitarian and pragmatic change. Punishment would beless brutal, more precise, and far more certain than before. Juries could nowconvict the guilty without seeing them tortured or killed.This new code, however, was meant for white folk alone. Slaves “had norights to respect,” wrote one authority, “no civic virtue or character to restore,no freedom to abridge.” Slaves were the property of their master, and thestate did not normally intervene. In the words of one Natchez slaveholder,“Each plantation was a law unto itself.” 14In 1836, the legislature authorized $75,000 to build a state penitentiary inJackson, the new capital. Known as the Walls, it was modeled after the NewYork State prison at Auburn, an institution praised throughout the UnitedStates and Europe for its advanced methods of penal reform. The Auburnsystem combined two popular theories of that time: congregate workingquarters and complete solitary confinement. By day, the prisoners laboredtogether in silence; by night, they slept alone in tiny cells. Conditions werespartan; food and clothing were purposely inferior to what the lower classesenjoyed. Prisoners were to be trained in religious instruction and taught thevalue of hard work. At Auburn, as in Jackson, the inmates were “constantlyemployed.” 15For the next twenty-five years, the Walls would stand as Mississippi’s mostimpressive civic reform. Its population was overwhelmingly white and male,reflecting a society in which slaves were punished by the master and whitewomen were seen as “virtuous” and “pure.” At its peak in 1860, the prisonoperated as a textile mill, making low-grade cotton cloth, turning small yearlyprofits, and working its 150 inmates in monastic silence, their eyes downcast,their thoughts, it was hoped, on repentance and the Lord. When Union troopsreached the Walls in 1863, they discovered a “great manufactory”—andpromptly burned it down. The Civil War would paralyze and liberateMississippi in countless ways.14 PART ONEAfter Slavery, Before Parchman15 CHAPTER ONEEmancipationI think God intended the niggers to be slaves. Now since man has derangedGod’s plan, I think the best we can do is keep ’em as near to a state ofbondage as possible…. My theory is, feed ’em well, clothe ’em well, andthen, if they don’t work … whip ’em well.”—A Yazoo Delta planter, 1866IIn the tumultuous summer of 1861, a Mississippi planter named WilliamNugent rode off to war with a regiment from Vicksburg. He did not expect avery long fight, viewing a Southern victory as all but inevitable. Nugentworried instead about his own mortality—about dying on a farawaybattlefield without “leaving an heir behind to … represent me hereafter in theaffairs of men.” His early letters home were filled with bluster and pride. “Ifeel that I would like to shoot a Yankee,” he told his young wife. “The Northwill yet suffer for this fratricidal war she has forced upon us—Her fields willbe desolated, her cities laid to waste, and the treasuries of her citizensdissipated in the vain attempt to subjugate a free people.” 1Nugent was mistaken, of course. By war’s end, only the South matched hisgrim portrait of destruction, and no other state had suffered more than hisown. The fields of Mississippi had been “desolated” by fire and flood andsimple neglect. The cities had been flattened by Grant’s artillery and pillagedby Sherman’s roaming troops. Following the seven-week siege of Vicksburgin 1863, Union soldiers had marched through the heart of Mississippi,burning houses, killing livestock, and trampling crops. Writing to his wife in1864, Nugent described the damage near Jackson, which had just been put tothe torch: “The largest plantations are … grown up in weeds…; fences arepulled down & destroyed; houses burned; negroes run off…. The prospectsare gloomy enough and may be worse. I think the present year will wind it up16 and … see me at home again.” 2Nugent was among the lucky ones: he came back alive. More than a third ofMississippi’s 78,000 soldiers were killed in battle or died from disease. Andmore than half of the survivors brought home a lasting disability of war.Visitors to the state were astonished by the broken bodies they saw at everygathering, in every town square. Mississippi resembled a giant hospital ward,a land of missing arms and legs. In 1866, one-fifth of the state budget wentfor the purchase of artificial limbs. 3Few could escape the consequences of this war. Mississippi was bankrupt. Itscommerce and transportation had collapsed. The railroads and levees lay inruins. Local governments barely functioned. In Desoto County, just belowMemphis, Judge James F. Trotter portrayed a landscape “enveloped inshadows, clouds and darkness.” “Wherever we turn our eyes,” he said, “wewitness the sad memorials of our misfortunes, melancholy evidence of oursufferings, and of the cruelty and savage ferocity of our late enemies…. Ourone consolation is the hope that we have reached the bottom.” 4Desperate planters and farmers struggled simply to survive. Their slaves hadbeen freed; their currency was worthless; their livestock and equipment hadbeen stolen by soldiers from both sides. In the fertile Yazoo Delta, “plowsand wagons were as scarce as mules, with no means to buy new ones. Thecavalryman fortunate enough to have been paroled with his horse … was theenvy of his neighbor.” 5Many of these farms were now tended by women and elderly men, the warhaving wiped out more than one-quarter of the white males in Mississippiover the age of fifteen. In his popular travel account, The Desolate South,author John T. Trowbridge described a visit to Corinth, Mississippi, near theShiloh battlefield, in the winter of 1866. The “bruised and battered” town wasfilled with “lonely white women,” he wrote, “crouched shivering over thehearth.” In Natchez, reformer Carl Schurz found an old gentleman—“delicatehands; clothes shabby”—cutting down “a splendid shade tree” on the groundsof his once magnificent home. When Schurz asked him why, the man replied,“I must live. My sons fell in the war. All my servants have left me. I sellfirewood to the steamboats passing by.” 6Even Schurz, who despised the slaveholding class, was moved by thesuffering of its members. Their cause had been morally indefensible, he17 believed, but their “heroic self-sacrifice” had been very real indeed. Schurzreturned to the North “troubled with great anxiety.” He worried most aboutthe rising tide of white anger he saw in places like Natchez and Vicksburg—an anger directed mainly against blacks, the traditional victims of violenceand exploitation in the South.There were reasons for concern. With slavery abolished, Mississippi wasmoving toward a formal—and violent—separation of the races. Deeplyrooted customs were now being written into law. The state legislature hadjust passed the South’ first Jim Crow ordinance, prohibiting Negroes fromriding in railroad coaches set aside for whites. Following suit, the city ofNatchez had segregated its river walkways in order to keep black men andwhite women apart—the right bluff for use “of the whites, for ladies andchildren and nurses; the central bluff for bachelors and the coloredpopulation; and the lower promenade for whites.” 7Blacks who challenged these rules faced arrest, humiliation, and sometimesworse. On a steamboat ride down the Mississippi River, Trowbridge noticed“ fashionably dressed couple” come on board near Vicksburg.Terrible was the captain’ wrath. “God damn your soul,” he said, “get off thisboat.” The gentleman and lady were colored, and they had been guilty ofunpardonable impudence in asking for a stateroom.“Kick the nigger!” “He ought to have his neck broke!” “He ought to behung!” said the indignant passengers, by whom the captain’s prompt actionwas strongly commended.The unwelcome couple went quietly ashore and one of the hands pitchedtheir trunk after them. They were in a dilemma: their clothes were too fine fordeck passage and their skins were too dark for cabin passage. So they satdown on the shore to wait for the next steamer.“They won’t find a boat that’ll take ’em,” said the grim captain. “Anyhow,they can’t force their damned nigger equality on to me!”AfterwardsI heard the virtuous passengers talking over the affair. “Howwould you feel,” said one with solemn emphasis, “to know that your wife wassleeping in the next room to a nigger and his wife?” 8This hatred had many sources. The ex-slave had become a scapegoat for theSouth’s humiliating defeat. John F. H. Claiborne, Mississippi’s mostprominent historian, blamed him for causing the war and for helping the18 North to prevail. Others saw the freedman as a living symbol, a dailyreminder, of all that had changed. For the planter, emancipation meant theloss of human property and the disruption of his labor supply. For the poorwhite farmer, it meant even more. Emancipation had not only crushed hispassionate dreams of slaveholding; it had also erased one of the two “greatdistinctions” between himself and the Negro. The farmer was white and free;the Negro was black—but also free. How best to preserve the remainingdistinction—white supremacy—would become an obsession in the post—Civil War South. 9Throughout Mississippi, these tensions seemed particularly severe. That, atleast, was the opinion of northerners who visited the South, or were stationedthere, after the war. Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune was struck bythe enormous hostility he found in the Magnolia State, where blacks greatlyoutnumbered whites and where a free Negro majority created uniquepossibilities for political and economic change. “More or less, the samefeeling had been apparent in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana,”he wrote in 1866, “but it was in Mississippi that I found its fullest expression.However these man may have regarded the negro slave, they hated the negrofreeman. However kind they may have been to negro property, they werevirulently vindictive against a property that had escaped from theircontrol.” 10IIBy the time of the Confederate surrender in April 1865, more than half ofMississippi’s 400,000 blacks were already free. Some of them had fled toUnion lines from their poorly guarded plantations; others had beenabandoned by their owners as the enemy approached. “The arrival among usof these hordes was like the oncoming of cities …”, wrote a chaplain inGrant’s army. “There were men, women, and children in every stage ofdisease or decrepitude, often nearly naked, with flesh torn by the terribleexperiences of their escapes.” Those who survived were put to work as paidlaborers, loading supplies, clearing land, and chopping wood. They lived inawful squalor, the chaplain reported, their “ignorance” causing “a veritablemoral chaos” in the camps. 11Emancipation came late, often grudgingly, to other parts of the state. Formerslaves sketched a memorable scene—a kind of ritual—in which the master19 lined them up, told them they were no longer his property, and asked (ordemanded) that they stay on to help with the crop. “My white folks talkedplain to me” recalled a freedman from Adams County, south of Natchez.“Dey said real sad like: ‘Charlie, you is bin a dependence but now you kin goeffen you is so desirous. But effen you wants to stay wid us … dare is ahouse fur you, en wood to keep you warm…. Do jist ez you please.’” 12But others described a different reality, filled with false promises from themaster. An ex-slave from Amite County, on the Louisiana border,remembered the day that “Marse Bill blowed dat big horn an’ all de slavescum right ter de big house an’ he tole dem dat dey was free now, but dat hewanted dem ter stay wid him till de crop wus made an’ he wud pay dem furit.” At year’s end, however, the field hands received no wages because MarseBill had charged them dearly for rent and supplies. “All dey made de boss tukit, and ’iffen you moved to er nudder plantashunm yo’ had to go widnuffin.” 13Some slaves were not even told they were free. Their masters, believingemancipation to be illegal or immoral, refused to spread the word. Thiscaused particular problems in the deep interior counties of Mississippi, wheretowns were scattered, plantations were isolated, and news could be tightlycontrolled. “I heered it talked about … but I wuz kinda skeered to ask …”,said an ex-slave from the Yazoo Delta. “I did one day tho when I asked OleMiss, ‘Miss dey tells me de niggers is free, is dey?’ She say, ‘No! and you’dbetter come on and go to work ’fore you gits tored up.’ Dey did free us thoabout three or fo months after dis.” 14These planters sought a way to control black labor now that slavery hadexpired. This would not be easy because the freedmen had interests of theirown. They were determined to explore the countryside, to experience thenovelties of town life, and to feel freedom under their feet. Mobility was botha precious right and a liberating force for ex-slaves. It permitted them toleave a hated master, to bargain for better conditions, to search for loved oneswho had been cruelly sold away. “We have not one of our old hands on theplantation this year,” a Mississippian reported in 1867. “They are scattered tothe four winds.” 15Emancipation provided legal relief from the pace and discipline of slavery,and it allowed blacks to protest old grievances by simply moving on. Afreedwoman from Simpson County, south of Jackson, could not forget the20 flogging of her grandmother, “wid her clothes stripped down to her waist, herhands tied ’hind her to a tree … it just made a ’pression on my childestmind.” An ex-slave from South Mississippi could still hear the crack of thewhip and the futile pleadings of her mother: “O, marse, I is neber gwine torun ’way er gin. O, please, I is gwine to stay here.” And a freedman from theYazoo Delta could not forgive the brutal beatings suffered by his father: “Mypa an’ ma wasn’t owned by de same masters…. At night pa would slip overto see us an’ ole Marse wuz mos’ always on de look out fer everything. Whenhe would ketch him he would beat him so hard ’till we could tell which wayhe went by de blood. But pa, he would keep a comin’ to see us an’ takin’ debeatins.” 16The extent of this mobility is difficult to gauge. Among the hundreds of ex-slaves interviewed in the 1930s, about 40 pecent claimed to have movedduring the war itself or in the months immediately following emancipation.But most remained where they were, living as tenants or field hands on thesame land they had worked all along. And those who did leave often went avery short distance—to a neighboring plantation, perhaps, or the nearestcrossroads town. The exhilaration of moving was tempered by feelings ofinsecurity and fear. “We wanted to be free at times, den we would get scartan’ want to stay slaves,” a freedman recalled. “We was tol all kinds of thingsbut didn’t know jes what to believe.” Some returned to their homeplantations. “[We] was jes’ lak cows an’ hogs,” said an ex-slave from centralMississippi. “We would stray off an’ didn’t know whar to go an’ fus thingwould go right back to Ole Marse.” 17Southern whites took a different point of view. Emancipation had endedslavery but had not destroyed the assumptions upon which slavery was based.The fact that many blacks abandoned their plantationsin 1865 simplyreinforced the image of the lazy, indolent field hand, shuffling aimlesslythrough life. In white eyes, the Negro viewed his freedom in typicallyprimitive terms—as a license to roam the countryside in search of pleasureand trouble.By most accounts, the Negro found both. Newspapers reported that “idledarkies” were clogging the roads, stealing crops and livestock, jostling whitesf...

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