If you’ve never seen it, the PBS program “Slavery by Another Name” based on the 2008 Pulitzer winning book of the same by author Douglas A. Blackmon can be viewed online in its entirety and I urge you to take the time to watch it. The full title of the book is Slavery by Another Name, The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.
The program is a sweeping history of involuntary servitude following the Civil War, encompassing convict leasing, peonage (debt servitude), forced sharecropping and more. Why include it here? We were not the deep south, you say? Well, take a closer look, and I urge more research on the subject of this impact on the Mid-Atlantic region.
During my own research, I have run across intriguing newspaper accounts. One article in the 1920s was an account from the Baltimore Afro-American about employment secured in Baltimore which resulted in involuntary employment on the Eastern Shore, where one person reported escaping what had been forced labor. Another case in 1924, included with a mention in my upcoming book, about an Accomac County, Virginia, man apparently sent to work on a road gang for a year following arrest, a year before even being tried for his arrested offense. And in the well-known case of the 1921 murder of black school superintendent of Worcester County, Maryland, in Pocomoke, Stephen Long — historian Hammett Worthington-Smith wrote that it was believed that the murder had something to do with black orphans hired out from Cheltenham to Eastern Shore farmers.
The images below are of other accounts in 1914 and 1927, respectively, from the Baltimore Afro-American. So as you view the documentary of cases that were likely more frequent south of Delmarva, keep an open and curious mind, and wonder what life was like here on the Eastern Shore.
— Linda Duyer