Peonage in the South after the First World War



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Peonage was a system of forced labor sanctioned by law in Mexico and Spanish America which was introduced in the United States after the Civil War. To maintain economic control of the Negro, Southern whites enacted laws designed to hold the blacks in a subservient position. Despite the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment and the anti-peonage laws of the federal government, many Southern Negroes by 1900 had been forced into a system bordering on slavery. In general Southern whites employed two methods to hold the blacks in a state of indebtedness. Fines, which Negroes could not pay, were levied for infractions of vagrancy statutes. They either went to jail or worked for a landowner who paid the fine. If a Negro chose jail, he could be leased to the same landowner. Peonage was also common under the tenancy-sharecropping system, because Negroes were forbidden by law to leave a farm until all debts were cleared. [...]