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

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

by Earl Swift

Narrated by Mark Deakins

Unabridged — 12 hours, 22 minutes

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

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

by Earl Swift

Narrated by Mark Deakins

Unabridged — 12 hours, 22 minutes

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Overview

""Hell Put to Shame is a powerfully unsettling portrait of both the single most savage episode in the long decades of savagery inflicted by white southerners on their Black neighbors in the 20th century-and the methodical process that followed to erase those crimes from America's collective memory."" -Douglas A. Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

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 which exposed for the nation the existence of the “peonage system,” a form of legal enslavement established after the Civil War across the American South.*

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 expose, 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. Georgia Governor Hugh M. Dorsey had earned international infamy while prosecuting the 1913 Leo Frank murder case in Atlanta and consequently won the statehouse as a hero of white supremacists-then redeemed himself in spectacular fashion with the “Murder Farm” affair. 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. And 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.

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.*

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.


Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Propulsive… .The ease of reading Swift’s efficient prose belies its elegance… .This is a must-read.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A gripping, memorable work that wholly confronts a hellish past that continues to bleed into the present. ...This unflinching narrative will make readers examine not only America’s dark history, but also the disheartening parallels that exist today." — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Hell Put to Shame is a powerfully unsettling portrait of the single most savage episode in the long decades of savagery inflicted by white southerners on their black neighbors in the 20th century—and the methodical process that followed to erase those crimes from America’s collective memory." — Douglas A. Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

"Here is a 1920s tale of a serial murderer whose long record of civil rights cruelties and grotesque crimes was matched only by the steadfast bravery of a few individuals who peered into the depths and could take no more. If Killers of the Flower Moon could somehow be fused with The Devil in the White City and Django Unchained, you might get some idea of the scope of the evil that Earl Swift has so carefully documented in chilling and enraging detail, much of it rendered in incredibly vivid scenes of courtroom drama.” — Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of Hellhound On His Trail

“Swift shines a powerful light on the practice of debt slavery… A blunt portrait of the racial injustice coursing through America and of the organizations that rose to fight it.”
New York Times Book Review

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2024-01-19
Historical true-crime tale that demonstrates the all-too-real horrors of the peonage system in the American South.

In his latest book, Swift, author of Chesapeake Requiem, Across the Airless Wilds, and Auto Biography, unfurls the heinous acts that took place in 1921 at a Georgia farm known as The Murder Farm, where 11 Black men were found shot, bludgeoned, or drowned at or near the farm. Held by a form of debt slavery known as peonage, these men and others were maliciously killed by the farm’s owner, John Sims Williams, in order to keep secret the unspeakable acts that took place there. As the FBI began searching Williams’ land for evidence of malfeasance, bodies were found in the nearby river tied at the neck to bags of rocks. So began the investigation and trial that brought the dark, then-commonplace racist practices of Georgia’s white citizens into the spotlight of the nation. Swift provides word-for-word accounts from Clyde Manning, the farm boss whom Williams threatened to kill should he not commit the murders, as well as trial transcripts and newspaper reports that clearly show the deeply entrenched racist system that dominated the South in the early 20th century. The author fully exposes the hellscape that enabled peonage to thrive, with hundreds of lynchings and mass murders of Black people by white mobs. “It seems too tranquil a setting for the lessons it offers,” writes Swift about the river where the bodies turned up. “That the past lurks close. That we haven’t learned as much as we think we have. That maybe we never do.” This unflinching narrative will make readers examine not only America’s dark history, but also the disheartening parallels that exist today.

A gripping, memorable work that wholly confronts a hellish past that continues to bleed into the present.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940159422842
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/02/2024
Edition description: Unabridged
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