Those Left Behind...Slaves In The 20th & 21st Century
-- Genealogist and researcher produces documentary entitled "The Untold Story: Slavery In The 20th Century"
Antoinette Harrell, genealogist and television talk show producer
Nationwide (BlackNews.com) -- For ten years Antoinette Harrell, renowned genealogist and television talk show producer, has unearthed thousands of state and federal documents relating to peonage. Peonage in the Southern States grew out of labor settlements following the emancipation of the slaves. At the end of the Civil War, both Black and White people throughout the south faced enormous political, social and economic changes. In the southern states, many newly freed slaves remained on plantations. Many of the plantations were still in the hands of previous owners. As Freedmen, the ex-slaves agreed to work the crops in exchange for housing, a percentage of crops, and to receive a salary. Under the provisions enacted by the state legislature, legal contracts were drawn up and signed by both planter and labor. Overseeing these agreements were agents from the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, a government agency established to assist Freedmen in the aftermath of emancipation. The Freedmen, being unable to read or write, had to make their mark. Children as young as five years old had their mark made. It is reasonable to believe that plantation owners also forged their marks.
Ten years ago, Harrell conducted a genealogy and reparations lecture in Amite, Louisiana, at All Nations Church. A woman named Mae Louise Miller walked in and stated that she and her family had been held as slaves in Gillsburg, Mississippi. Harrell didn't doubt Mae's life story. She had met other people in St. John Parish, Louisiana, who spoke of slavery and Involuntary Servitude on plantations in St. John Parish in the 20th Century. Many of the people Harrell met were afraid to speak out. They were afraid of what would happen to them if they told anyone that they had been slaves and peons in the 20th century. Some of the people she talked with couldn't read or write in the 21st century. Like Mae, some of them thought that everyone was living in the same conditions. Most importantly, they didn't believe that anyone would believe them.
Harrell started to dig deeper looking for any written evidence to prove that what the former 20th century slaves and peons told her were recorded somewhere. She purchased a book entitled The Shadows of Slavery by Pete Daniels. The book led her to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. She started researching the peonage files and found thousands of records such as newspapers articles, Federal Bureau of Investigations Reports, NAACP Reports, letters from private citizens, and also letters to and from elected officials. Harrell climbed into courthouse attics pulling books from dusty bookshelves to find evidence from local sheriffs and constables. Some companies such as Southern Lumber Company, Clyde Beatty Circus, various sugar companies, Prairie-Pebble Company, Birmingham & Northern Railway Company and Barker Chemical Company accumulated their wealth off slavery labor in the 20th Century. Harrell's research of records in the National Archives on involuntary servitude in the 20th century revealed some of the cases that appealed before the United States Supreme Court such as United States vs. Barker Chemical Company, United States vs. Dunnellon Phosphate and the United State vs. John Williams.
Harrell found evidence that several Presidents of the United States were aware that slavery hadn't ended. President Calvin Coolidge, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and President Warren Harding knew that slavery still existed in sixteen states and twenty-seven counties in Mississippi. Harrell's researched revealed that poor Whites, Hungarians, Polish, Choctaw Indians, Mexicans and Italians - but predominately Black people - were held as 20th Century Slaves.
There were endless documents to support that slavery hadn't ended for hundreds of thousands of African Americans in the United States. Some FBI Reports revealed that many where beaten, raped, sold, and in some cases murdered by the plantation owners. Many tried to steal away through the night. Some men and women escaped and later tried to go back to get their families off these plantations.
Harrell started traveling throughout the South looking for any slave descendents who were left behind. Sometimes she had to travel deep into wooded areas. Sometimes there was only one dirt gravel road in and out. She soon identified a new form of slavery, slaves of poverty. These individuals are the ones who were left behind for a hundred years and had now entered into a new form of slavery that was enslaving these families for the third time. Harrell along with her colleagues, Ines Soto-Palmarin, The Southhaven Muhammad Study Group, Tedarrell Muhammad, Kareem Ali Muhammad, Photographers Walter C. Black, Sr., Shawn Escoffery, and Linda Price, organized a Poverty Tour of the Mississippi Delta.
The Poverty Tour revealed women, men, and children living in third world conditions. Dr. Ron Walter, a Political Analyst and professor, Rev. Al Sampson, and Dr. Ava Muhammad, Spokeswoman for the Nation of Islam, joined Harrell on the Poverty Tour. Students for Southeastern Louisiana University, under direction of Professor Rebecca Hensley, and Kentwood High School Students helped Harrell give out over four hundred bags of clothes and food to those in need.
The descendants of those left behind are living in extreme poverty. They are living in terrible housing conditions, sometimes without water, electricity, or enough food to eat. Some people are still using outhouses in the 21st Century.
Harrell has produced a documentary entitled "The Untold Story: Slavery In The 20th Century".
For more information, please contact Antoinette Harrell at 504-858-4658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
SHARE THIS PAGE: