“A Question of Labor”: Planters, Freed Slaves, and Alternate Laborers in the American South, 1865‐1875
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“The Labor Question” was planters’ response to freedpeoples’ various acts of resistance on their plantations. By looking at the way Southern planters characterized black laborers in this debate, one can see how plantation owners interpreted the various disputes with freed slaves that were erupting on plantations. The continuous set of articles on freedpeoples’ acts of resistance also serves to remind us that freed slaves actively fought to improve their status in Southern society. Freed laborers’ insistence on redefining their position in Southern society framed conditions of their emancipation. “The Labor Question” also displayed how racist ideologies led planters to come to conclusions that in hindsight, made them look like fools. The paternalistic myth from the Antebellum era that slaves liked slavery convinced many planters that the Chinese would willingly flock to their plantations, and joyously perform backbreaking labor out of sheer love and devotion. Planters also believed that white laborers, being white, would be the smartest, most industrial laborers the world had to offer. Their hopes were soon proven to be incredibly unfounded. Research for the thesis looked at as many states and regions in the South as were possible. Whenever discussing the South as a whole, it is important to remember that nothing was homogenous. Consequently, the events described were broad trends that occurred throughout the South. In terms of relations between planters and their laborers, whether they were black, white, or Chinese, there were bound to have been exceptions to every trend discussed.
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