Hell Put to Shame with Earl Swift

Cover of Hell Put to Shame

Earl Swift returns to talk about his latest book 

Hell Put to Shame: The 1921 Murder Farm Massacre and the Horror of America's Second Slavery

Earl will read from and answer questions about the events in his book and about the practice of "peonage".

 

From the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Chesapeake Requiem comes a gripping new work of narrative nonfiction telling the forgotten story of the mass killing of eleven Black farmhands on a Georgia plantation in the spring of 1921—a crime that exposed for the nation the existence of “peonage,” a form of slavery that gained prominence across the American South after the Civil War.

On a Sunday morning in the spring of 1921, a small boy made a grim discovery as he played on a riverbank in the cotton country of rural Georgia: the bodies of two drowned men, bound together with wire and chain and weighted with a hundred-pound sack of rocks. Within days a third body turned up in another nearby river, and in the weeks that followed, eight others. And with them a deeper horror: all eleven had been kept in virtual slavery before their deaths. In fact, as America was shocked to learn, the dead were among thousands of Black men enslaved throughout the South in conditions nearly as dire as those before the Civil War.

Hell Put to Shame tells the forgotten story of that mass killing and of the revelations about peonage, or debt slavery, that it placed before a public self-satisfied that involuntary servitude had ended at Appomattox more than fifty years before.

By turns police procedural, courtroom drama, and political exposé, Hell Put to Shame also reintroduces readers to three Americans who spearheaded the prosecution of John S. Williams, the wealthy plantation owner behind the murders, at a time when white people rarely faced punishment for violence against their Black neighbors. The remarkable polymath James Weldon Johnson, newly appointed the first Black leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, marshaled the organization into a full-on war against peonage. Johnson’s lieutenant, Walter F. White, a light-skinned, fair-haired, blue-eyed Black man, conducted undercover work at the scene of lynchings and other Jim Crow atrocities, helping to throw a light on such violence and to hasten its end. And Georgia governor Hugh M. Dorsey won the statehouse as a hero of white supremacists—then redeemed himself in spectacular fashion with the “Murder Farm” affair.

The result is a story that remains fresh and relevant a century later, as the nation continues to wrestle with seemingly intractable challenges in matters of race and justice. And the 1921 case at its heart argues that the forces that so roil society today have been with us for generations.
 

Earl SwiftEarl Swift is the author of the New York Times bestseller Chesapeake Requiem, which was named to ten best-of-the-year lists. His other books include Across the Airless Wilds, Auto Biography, The Big Roads, and Where They Lay. A former reporter for the Virginian-Pilot and a contributor to Outside and other publications, he is a fellow of Virginia Humanities at the University of Virginia. He lives in the Blue Ridge mountains west of Charlottesville.

 

 

Event date: 

Tuesday, May 7, 2024 - 7:00pm to 9:00pm

Event address: 

10464 Ridgefield Pkwy.
Gleneagle Center
Henrico, VA 23223
Hell Put to Shame: The 1921 Murder Farm Massacre and the Horror of America's Second Slavery By Earl Swift Cover Image
$32.50
ISBN: 9780063265387
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Mariner Books - April 2nd, 2024

Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island By Earl Swift Cover Image
$18.99
ISBN: 9780062661401
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - February 18th, 2020

Across the Airless Wilds: The Lunar Rover and the Triumph of the Final Moon Landings By Earl Swift Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9780062986535
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - July 6th, 2021