In a Class by Itself: Slavery and the Emergence of Capitalist Social Relations during Reconstruction

Adrienne Petty

A new generation of scholars has revived and expanded the interpretation that slavery was an extraordinarily violent form of capitalism central to the United States’ economic development.[1] This scholarly trend has implications for how we understand labor during Reconstruction. In two major books illustrative of this turn in the literature, historians adopt the terms “slave labor camp” and “carceral landscape” instead of plantation; the semantic shift is intended to equate antebellum slavery with other brutal labor regimes characteristic of modern capitalist societies.[2] Some within this scholarly vanguard also reject other prevailing interpretations of “the peculiar institution.” Most notably, they snub the influential yet controversial thesis that the antebellum South was a unique slave society embedded within but characterized by social relations distinct from the capitalist world economy.[3] Historians of an earlier generation, prominently including Eugene Genovese, argued that the slave South was precapitalist because of the relations of production between slaves and slaveowners. That point is immaterial to the new historians of slavery and capitalism, who see an integral link between the brutal labor regime of slavery and the growth of capitalism in the United States.[4]

By ignoring slaves’ inability to sell their labor, the new historians of slavery risk undermining their well-meaning and valuable emphasis on the racism, inhumanity, and depravity of slavery. They diminish the force and credibility of their interpretation, in short, by adhering to a definition of capitalism that emphasizes slaveholders’ treatment of slaves as capital without acknowledging the important distinction between being enslaved and being compelled to sell one’s labor power to survive.

What impact does this revised interpretation of slavery have on our understanding of class and labor in the post–Civil War South? Is the postbellum southern countryside still to be understood as having undergone a capitalist revolution in labor relations? The new historians of slavery and capitalism have yet to offer a useful theoretical framework for understanding the transition from slavery to new exploitative labor regimes, particularly in the southern countryside. Moreover, the new historians of capitalism do not explore the implications of their arguments about capitalism beyond the Civil War. Following their analyses to their logical conclusion, perhaps they would depart from Eric Foner’s enduring interpretation and instead resurrect W. E. B. Du Bois’s provocative thesis about the end of slavery. While Du Bois conceived of slaves as workers in a capitalist system who waged a “general strike” during the Civil War, Foner argues that slaves became “workers” only after the Civil War.[5]

So far, the new histories of slavery and capitalism have not influenced the latest scholarly work on labor and the formation of new classes during Reconstruction. The newest research on labor and Reconstruction still builds upon the trailblazing insights found in publications dating from the 1970s through the 1990s. These insights surfaced in books, articles, and book chapters that explored the political economy of slavery, the revolutionary consequences of emancipation, and the development of sharecropping and other new forms of labor. These published works established that the exploitation of slaves gave way to class exploitation rooted in capitalist relations of production.[6]

The now classic literature on the capitalist transformation of labor reminds us that an analysis of various instruments of transatlantic finance, the flow of commodities and capital, the development of new technology in the Mississippi River Valley, and innovations in the torture of slaves must complement but not supplant an analysis of distinct social classes, their competing interests, and their dealings with one another. Looking forward, historians of labor and Reconstruction have the potential to expand our understanding of the revolutionary nature of the postemancipation period by focusing renewed attention on class relations.[7] They also will rethink why various forms of unfree and coerced labor emerged alongside wage labor in the South.

At the same time, the era of Reconstruction encompassed some of the most assertive labor movements in U.S. history, setting the stage for later agrarian struggles at the end of the nineteenth century. As Steven Hahn argues, “we must not forget that emancipation created a new working class chiefly in the rural districts of the South, and one that carried out the most impressive political mobilization of any section of the working class in the entire nineteenth century.”[8] Finally, further investigation of the themes of labor and capitalism during Reconstruction will connect the story of labor during Reconstruction to the broader story of late-nineteenth-century economic development in the United States and worldwide. It is a story with particular relevance as our society continues to wrestle with racism and class inequality.

Some of the most useful recent and forthcoming work asks fresh questions about the classes in southern society from the antebellum era through Reconstruction. In her forthcoming book, Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South, Keri Leigh Merritt reconsiders the history of poor white southerners who lacked both slaves and property.[9] She writes that although the antebellum South’s markets were certainly capitalist, social relations within the region did not resemble capitalist social relations, making Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese’s “in-but-not-of” maxim much more accurate than recent scholars have contended.[10] Merritt argues that poor white people “had little to no control over their respective labor-power, because brutalized slave labor consistently reduced the demand for workers, lowered their wages, and rendered their bargaining power ineffective and worthless. In essence, they were not truly ‘free’ laborers.” In addition, Merritt argues that, as with slaves, the elite used violence or the threat of violence as a tool for political and economic control. It also was not unusual for white workers to face prison time for debt and other offenses, have their children bound out, or be “sold” to short-term masters for crimes or debt.[11] Merritt challenges the new histories of slavery by demonstrating the peculiarity of social relations between white southerners.

Emancipation, then, contributed to an unraveling of slaveowners’ sovereignty over both enslaved people and impoverished white people and unleashed capitalist relations of production among freedpeople and poor white people alike. Merritt’s research shows that there was a wider array of people with a stake in Reconstruction than we usually consider. She is charting a course away from an analysis of the non-slaveowning majority as a monolithic group of yeoman farmers and pointing the way for other scholars to give heightened attention to subordination of poor white workers by other white people.[12] Such insights about inequality among white southerners promise to deepen our understanding of how Reconstruction contributed to the growth of two interrelated scourges: new forms of racism and new methods of class domination, including sharecropping, tenant farming, and the crop lien system. My own work, Standing Their Ground: Small Farmers in North Carolina since the Civil War, for example, shows the formation of a new class of smallholding farmers that had its genesis in Reconstruction but continued to grow during Redemption and the Jim Crow era. Set at odds by racism, these small landowning farmers nevertheless shared class interests with poor white farm owners.[13] Similarly, by focusing on black women’s place in the political economy of the rural South, several historians call our attention to women’s powerful efforts to resist their subordination.[14] Historians also are paying much more attention to the meaning of Reconstruction for Native Americans. For instance, Jim Downs argues that the federal government’s experience in building a free labor system in the postwar South informed its policy toward Native Americans in reservations during the 1870s. An analysis of the changes these groups faced during the postbellum years further undermines the notion that the South was capitalist during the antebellum period.[15]

Scholars interested in labor and social history also could begin to consider more seriously the postemancipation experience of men and women formerly owned by slaveowners who owned fewer than ten slaves in order to understand the economic systems at work in the South. Many historians’ reflex understanding of slavery still rests on evidence about the elite class of slaveholders who owned more than one hundred slaves. As more historians delve into the history of smaller-scale slaveowners, new analyses will emerge that trace their postemancipation experience. In a similar way, the outpouring of scholarship on slavery in the Mississippi River Valley and the unique labor relations and brutal forms of discipline that developed have the potential to reshape how historians understand the collapse of slavery.[16] How did the reorganization of plantations proceed in these areas? Conversely, historians of Reconstruction and labor can bring useful insights to bear on the enduring question of what slavery was, what it was not, and how emancipation changed labor and social relations in the South and in the nation.

The most recent literature already emphasizes the degree to which there was a transformation from slavery to capitalist relations of production. While not engaging the precapitalist versus capitalist debate directly, these works, like Merritt’s, nevertheless show that the violence was the only constant in the changing landscape of labor relations. Thavolia Glymph’s Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household, published almost eight years ago, has been most influential in reorienting our understanding of violence in the plantation household and reaffirming the revolutionary nature of the shift from slavery to freedom.[17] Building on her own tremendous scholarship concerning the gradual emergence of capitalist social relations in southern agriculture, Glymph focuses on the contest that ensued between freedwomen and former slaveowning women. Emancipated women sought the autonomy and control over their own labor that slavery had denied them, while former slaveholding women tried to regain sovereignty over the lives and labor of former slaves.[18] Paying equal attention to the antebellum and postbellum periods, Glymph debunks the myth that slaveowning women were oppressed allies of enslaved women. Quite to the contrary, she shows, they wielded enormous power over slave women who worked within their households and inflicted violence on them to uphold it. Both Glymph and the new historians of slavery document the same rampant violence under slavery, but Glymph does not view this violence as emblematic of capitalism. Capitalist labor relations, she establishes, emerged after the Civil War. Nevertheless, the violent impulses of slavery carried over to the postemancipation period, when women employers once again turned to threats and terrifying corporal punishment to impose their wills on freedwomen.[19]

It would be a mistake, then, to argue that the persistence of violence signals continuity between the antebellum and postbellum period. As Junko Isono Kato, who studies slavery and freedom in Tennessee, argues, “desperate attempts in some quarters to revive slavery confirm what a radical departure from the past emancipation represented.”[20] Despite the overwhelming violence of Reconstruction, freedwomen and freedmen seized their rights and mounted movements, both large and small, to protect their autonomy and assert their rights to land, better working conditions, and control over their own time.[21] Steven Hahn captured this “impressive political mobilization,” which grew out of the politics that slaves had practiced, revolutionizing the way scholars understand the politics and goals of freedpeople. Just as Hahn showed how their tactics and conception of politics grew out of their struggles during slavery, historians have the opportunity to show how the massive worker mobilization during Reconstruction shaped workers’ struggles during Redemption and the Jim Crow period. For instance, Brian Kelly captures the militant self-assuredness and political action of the black working class in South Carolina, and shows how workers were central to the gains Republicans made during the Reconstruction years. Although he argues that the black elite came to dominate politics during Redemption, superseding the interests of workers, his work affirms that former slaves and their descendants were confronting a new economic system that represented a decisive break with the past.[22]

Former slaves’ aspiration for land and self-sufficiency remained strong despite the federal government’s failure to undertake land reform. Those who managed to gain land often did so by simultaneously farming someone else’s land, relying on household labor, and hunting and fishing on land they did not own. The recent increase in scholarship on African American landowners promises to expand our understanding of this aspect of postbellum history. Many topics remain to be explored, including a broader look at the role of women’s household labor in land acquisition and the part black southerners played in the struggle to preserve common rights to land use. The post-Reconstruction imposition of game, fishing, and fence laws—which took away poor farmers’ customary rights to land for hunting, fishing, and grazing—is important evidence that capitalist social relations emerged in the South only after the Civil War. If social relations in the slave South had been capitalist, game and fence laws that restricted people’s rights to the commons almost certainly would have been in place well before the Civil War.[23]

Another new feature of the post-Reconstruction southern labor regime was the convict lease system. Recent studies expand our understanding of the variety of exploitative labor systems that emerged in the wake of the Civil War. Most notably, Talitha L. LeFlouria’s book, Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South makes it impossible for us to speak of the convict lease system as an institution affecting only men. LeFlouria shows that private employers and states exploited the labor of imprisoned black women in brick factories, coal mines, and other industries of the New South.[24] The essays in Bruce Baker and Brian Kelly’s recent collection, After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South, encourage further reconsideration of the idea that free labor replaced slave labor by showing how new forms of coerced labor were no mere holdovers on the predestined path to free labor. On the contrary, these scholars argue, coerced labor was a bedrock of the new order. Scholars should continue to explore the ways employers and the state coerced labor while keeping in mind Barbara J. Fields’s observation that “by definition, production based on class division coerces labor. The question is, how is that coercion deployed?”[25] The harshly exploitative convict lease system complemented capitalist wage labor, for instance, by providing a mobile, flexible work force that could work in remote, often dangerous locations where few laborers were readily available.[26]

Several other historians are situating the shift from slave to free (and not so free) labor in the South alongside parallel shifts in labor regime in other parts of the nation. In Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction, Stacey L. Smith broadens our conception of bound laborers with a stake in the nation’s reckoning with slavery, expansion, and emancipation to include contract workers from Hawaii, peasants from Mexico and Chile, fugitive slaves, Chinese “coolies,” women trafficked as prostitutes, and debt peons and convict workers of various backgrounds. She shows that varied forms of unfree labor emerged during the 1850s, at the height of the gold rush. The decline of these forms of coerced labor coincided with the sectional conflict and eventual outbreak of the Civil War.[27]

The current interest in the historical roots of mass incarceration promises to inspire further research on postemancipation convict labor and the loophole for various forms of unfree labor provided by the Thirteenth Amendment. Efforts to understand the racism and economic underpinnings of mass incarceration and police killings of unarmed African American men and women will give this work a sense of urgency. Scholars of labor, capitalism, and Reconstruction have an opportunity to rethink the slave-labor–to–free-labor trajectory that limits our ability to account for new coercive labor regimes that emerged after the Civil War.

Likewise, the newest works will continue to help us rethink the temporal contours of the period. Rather than faithfully accepting Reconstruction as a political period marked by federal legislation and national elections, historians are insisting on definitions of Reconstruction that include more fine-tuned attention to change over time and local contexts, collapsing some of the walls we usually erect between historical periods, especially the strict distinctions between Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. Some even push the boundaries of Reconstruction to World War II.[28]

Yet, when studying labor after emancipation, historians should approach the reperiodization of Reconstruction with care and skepticism. The military occupation of the South, as limited as it was, still had both a coercive impact on former slaveowners and others who dared nullify both emancipation and freedpeople’s visions for independent and self-sufficient livelihoods. Federal occupation of the South, in turn, had an impact on labor struggles in other parts of the country. The traditional terminal date of 1877 did not halt freedpeople’s struggles to wrest power over their labor, but it marked a shift in the practical and symbolic context within which they would do so. We can remain true to the interpretation that Reconstruction ended with the withdrawal of federal troops from the South while still analyzing the massive but often halting and erratic changes in labor and social relations across a longer period of time.

Historians concerned with labor and social relations have reinforced the interpretation established during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s that Reconstruction witnessed a gradual shift to capitalist relations of production in the American South—or that its labor relations at least involved a significant break with the antebellum South. So far, the new historians of slavery and capitalism have not uprooted this interpretation. It is not whether one understands slavery as capitalist or not that is at stake, however. What is at stake is our main calling as students of the past: to understand the past by giving primacy to relations between human beings. Continued attention to the multiple social relations that developed, often in fits and starts, during Reconstruction will make more evident the significance of this era in American history. In addition, historians of Reconstruction can model insights and approaches that help people make sense of the present. We currently are living through a time of persistent and destructive racism, class warfare, and inequality. The Reconstruction era’s vagrancy laws, terrorism, and assault on customary laws reverberate in today’s harassment of the homeless and police shootings of unarmed black citizens. The history of emancipation and Reconstruction reminds us of the continued salience of class analysis for making sense of the past and the present.


Adrienne Petty is associate professor of history at the City College of New York. She is the author of Standing Their Ground: Small Farmers in North Carolina Since the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2013), which won the Theodore Saloutos Award from the Agricultural History Society and the H. L. Mitchell Award from the Southern Historical Association.


[1] See Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic Books, 2014); Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Knopf, 2014); Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge, MA.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013); Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999); Calvin Schermerhorn, The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815–1860 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015). For fine analyses of the literature on slavery, capitalism, and modernity, see Anthony E. Kaye, “The Second Slavery: Modernity in the Nineteenth-Century South and the Atlantic World,” Journal of Southern History 75 (August 2009): 627–50; Seth Rockman, “The Future of Civil War Era Studies: Slavery and Capitalism,” Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 1 (March 2012): 5; Jim Downs, “‘Big Wheel Keep on Turnin’: Slavery, Capitalism, and The Economist,” Huffington Post, September 9, 2014,; and Scott Reynolds Nelson, “Who Put Their Capitalism in My Slavery?” Journal of the Civil War Era 5 (June 2015): 289–310. Nelson insists that the new historians of capitalism and slavery have ignored contributions by Eric Williams and other seminal works that explore the connection between slavery and capitalism. The idea that slavery is capitalist has waxed and waned in influence among historians since the early twentieth century. See, most notably, James Oakes, The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders (New York: Knopf, 1982); and Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (New York: Knopf, 1956). A forthcoming collection of essays featuring the best of this new work, especially Daina Ramey Berry’s work on how slaveowners commodified and assigned value to enslaved people, is Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), which grows out of a 2011 conference at Brown University. See also Berry’s forthcoming book, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation (Boston: Beacon, 2017).
[2] Baptist coined the term “slave labor camp.” He catalogs in graphic detail the increase in the use of torture to bend slaves to the will of their masters that, he argues, rose in direct correlation with cotton production and profits. See Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told, xxii, 261–308. “Carceral landscape” is Johnson’s phrase. See Johnson, River of Dark Dreams, 209–43.
[3] Eugene Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Society and Economy of the Slave South (New York: Pantheon, 1965). See also David Brion Davis, Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); Robin Blackburn, The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492–1800 (New York: Verso, 2010); Douglas R. Egerton, “Markets without a Market Revolution: Southern Planters and Capitalism,” Journal of the Early Republic 16 (Summer 1996): 207–21; and Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland during the Nineteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), esp. 1–39.
[4] Reviewers have criticized Baptist’s book, in particular, for ignoring what some scholars still view as a critical distinction between slavery and other forms of labor. See Allen C. Guelzo, “Slavery All the Way Down: A Review of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist,” Claremont Review of Books 15 (Spring 2015):; Robin Blackburn, “White Gold, Black Labour,” New Left Review 95 (September–October 2015): 151–60.
[5] See W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860–1880 (1935; repr. New York: Free Press, 1999); Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988) and Noel Ignatiev, “‘The American Blindspot’: Reconstruction According to Eric Foner and W. E. B. Du Bois,” Labour/Le Travail 31 (Spring 1993): 243–51. I thank Keri Leigh Merritt for sharing Ignatiev’s essay with me.
[6] See Barbara Jeanne Fields, “The Advent of Capitalist Agriculture: The New South in a Bourgeois World,” in Essays on the Postbellum Southern Economy, ed. Thavolia Glymph and John J. Kushma (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1985): 73–94, and other essays in this essential collection. See also Harold D. Woodman, “Sequel to Slavery: The New History Views the Postbellum South,” Journal of Southern History 43 (November 1977): 523–54; Steven Hahn, The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850–1890 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983); Eric Foner, Nothing but Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983); Barbara Jeanne Fields, “The Nineteenth Century American South: History and Theory,” Plantation Society 2 (April 1983): 7–27; Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland during the Nineteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984); Armstead Robinson, “The Difference Freedom Made: The Emancipation of Afro-Americans,” in The State of Afro-American History: Past, Present, and Future, ed. Darlene Clark Hine (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1986), Julie Saville, The Work of Reconstruction: From Slave to Wage Laborer in South Carolina, 1860–1870 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Joseph Reidy, From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism in the Cotton Plantation South: Central Georgia, 1800–1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Harold D. Woodman, “Class, Race, Politics, and the Modernization of the Postbellum South,” Journal of Southern History 63 (February 1997): 3–22. More recently, see Steven Hahn et al., Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, ser. 3: vol. 1, Land and Labor, 1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008). The work of C. Vann Woodward, especially Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1951), has influenced the interpretations of these historians. For another influential interpretation of the postbellum South, see Alex Lichtenstein, “Was the Emancipated Slave a Proletarian?” Reviews in American History 26 (March 1998): 124–45. For an excellent historiographical essay on the economy and Reconstruction, see Stephen A. West, “‘A General Remodeling of Every Thing’: Economy and Race in the Post-Emancipation South,” in Reconstructions: New Perspectives on Postbellum United States, ed. Thomas J. Brown (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
[7] On the significance of class analysis, see Barbara Jeanne Fields, “Eugene D. Genovese,” in “History Now: Eugene Dominick Genovese: A Forum, The Georgia Historical Quarterly 98 (Winter 2014): 345–49, and Fields, “Nineteenth-Century American South,” 12–13.
[8] Steven Hahn, “What Sort of World Did the Civil War Make?” in The World the Civil War Made, ed. Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 345.
[9] Keri Leigh Merritt, Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
[10] Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, Fruits of Merchant Capitalism: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 16–19. For a discussion of the impact of Eugene Genovese’s scholarship, see Manisha Sinha, “Eugene Genovese: The Mind of a Marxist Conservative,” Radical History Review 88 (2004): 4–29.
[11] Merritt, Masterless Men; Keri Leigh Merritt, “A Second Degree of Slavery: How Black Emancipation Freed the South’s Poor Whites” (PhD diss., University of Georgia, 2014).
[12] In addition to Merritt’s dissertation and forthcoming work, see Stephen A. West, From Yeoman to Redneck in the South Carolina Upcountry, 1850–1915 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008).
[13] Adrienne Monteith Petty, Standing Their Ground: Small Farmers in North Carolina since the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 29–54.
[14] Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Susan Eva O’Donovan, Becoming Free in the Cotton South (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007). See also Nancy Bercaw, Gendered Freedoms: Race, Rights, and the Politics of Household in the Delta, 1861–1875 (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003) and Sharon Ann Holt, Making Freedom Pay: North Carolina Freedpeople Working for Themselves, 1865–1900 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000); Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (London: Verso, 2014), 261.
[15] Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 173.
[16] See Bercaw, Gendered Freedoms; Baptist, Half Has Never Been Told; and Johnson, River of Dark Dreams.
[17] Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage, 18–31.
[18] Thavolia Glymph, “Freedpeople and Ex-Masters: Shaping a New Order in the Postbellum South, 1865–1868,” in Glymph and Kushma, Essays on the Postbellum Southern Economy, 48–72.
[19] Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage, 138.
[20] Junko Isono Kato, “From Slavery to Freedom in Tennessee, 1860–1870” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2008), 252.
[21] In her essay for this issue, Kidada E. Williams challenges scholars to examine the varied experiences of African Americans during Reconstruction and beyond much more closely. She asks: “How much did an individual’s or family’s prospects and ability to withstand the challenges of freedom have to do with one’s grit, luck, or decision-making? Under what conditions were the hopeful seeds of freedom most likely to germinate?” See Williams, “Maintaining a Radical Vision of African Americans in the Age of Freedom,” Journal of the Civil War Era ( forum-the-future-of-reconstruction-studies). Williams provides a model of this approach in They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I (New York: New York University Press, 2012).
[22] Hahn, “What Sort of World Did the Civil War Make?” 345; and Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003), 2–9; Brian Kelly, “Class, Factionalism, and the Radical Retreat: Black Laborers and the Republican Party in South Carolina, 1865–1900,” in After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South, ed. Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013), 199–220. For more on the expanding concept of “politics” in Reconstruction Studies, see Thomas C. Holt’s essay in this forum: “The Future of Reconstruction Studies: Political History,” Journal of the Civil War Era ( forum-the-future-of-reconstruction-studies).
[23] See Pete Daniel, Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013); Debra A. Reid and Evan Bennett, Beyond Forty Acres and a Mule: African American Landowning Farmers since Reconstruction (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2012); Jarod Roll, Spirit of Rebellion: Labor and Religions in the New Cotton South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010); Petty, Standing Their Ground; Thomas W. Mitchell, “From Reconstruction to Deconstruction: Undermining Black Ownership, Political Independence, and Community Through Partition Sales of Tenancy in Common Property,” University of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1106; Mark Roman Schultz, The Rural Face of White Supremacy: Beyond Jim Crow (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006); Sharon Ann Holt, Making Freedom Pay: North Carolina Freedpeople Working for Themselves, 1865–1900 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000); Valerie Grim, “African American Landlords, 1865–1950: A Profile,” Journal of Agricultural History 72, no. 2 (1998): 399–416. Mark Roman Schultz and I are currently at work on a history of African American farm owners since the Civil War. For more on the enclosure of the commons, see Hahn, “Hunting, Fishing, and Foraging: Common Rights and Class Relations in the Postbellum South,” Radical History Review 26 (October 1982): 37–64.
[24] Talitha L. LeFlouria, Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), 61–102; Moon-Ho Jung, Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). In addition, Jermaine Thibodeaux, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas, is currently working on a dissertation about coerced labor on sugar plantations in Texas.
[25] Bruce E. Baker and Brian Kelly, eds., After Slavery: Race, Labor, and Citizenship in the Reconstruction South (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013). New scholarship on coerced labor builds on the important work of Alex Lichtenstein, Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor (New York: Verso, 1999) and Reidy, From Slavery to Agrarian Capitalism, 203–36. Fields, “Nineteenth-Century American South,” 22.
[26] Matthew J. Mancini, One Dies, Get Another: Convict Leasing in the American South, 1866–1928 (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1996): 59. See also David M. Oshinsky, “Worse Than Slavery”: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice (New York: Free Press, 1996).
[27] Stacey L. Smith, Freedom’s Frontier: California and the Struggle over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015): 15–46; Margaret Garb, Freedom’s Ballot: African American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014); Heather Cox Richardson, The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post–Civil War North, 1865–1901 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004).
[28] Historians are also rethinking the chronology of the Civil War. Carole Emberton discusses this development in “Unwriting the Freedom Narrative: A Review Essay,” Journal of Southern History 82 (May 2016): 387–88, as does W. Fitzhugh Brundage, “Reconstruction in the South,” Journal of the Civil War Era ( forum-the-future-of-reconstruction-studies).


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