Earl Swift (Hell Put to Shame) in conversation with Douglas A. Blackmon
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The Georgia Center for the Book

Earl Swift (Hell Put to Shame) in conversation with Douglas A. Blackmon

  • Doors: 6:30 pm
  • Start Time: 7:00 pm
  • End Time: 8:00 pm
  • Age Restriction:  All Ages

About the Event

Join the Georgia Center for the Book and A Capella Books for an evening with the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Earl Swift to discuss his new work of narrative nonfiction, Hell Put to Shame: The 1921 Murder Farm Massacre and the Horror of America’s Second Slavery. He'll be in conversation with Pulitzer-Prize winner Douglas A. Blackmon. Registration requested.


This will be on the Fourth Floor of Decatur Library. Only the elevator on the right (when you're facing the elevators) goes to the Fourth Floor. It will be unlocked at 6:30. If you need to take the other elevator, take it to the third floor and then exit and press the button to go up. The correct elevator will then come.


About the Book:


"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 that exposed for the nation the existence of “peonage,” a form of slavery that gained prominence across the American South after the Civil War.


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 exposé, 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. 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. 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. And Georgia governor Hugh M. Dorsey won the statehouse as a hero of white supremacists—then redeemed himself in spectacular fashion with the “Murder Farm” affair.


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.


About the Author:


Earl Swift is the author of the New York Times bestseller Chesapeake Requiem, which was named to ten best-of-the-year lists. His other books include Across the Airless Wilds, Auto Biography, The Big Roads, and Where They Lay. A former reporter for the Virginian-Pilot and a contributor to Outside and other publications, he is a fellow of Virginia Humanities at the University of Virginia. He lives in the Blue Ridge mountains west of Charlottesville.


About the Conversation Partner:


Douglas A. Blackmon is the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, and co-executive producer of the acclaimed PBS documentary of the same name. His is also a contributing correspondent to the Washington Post and chair and host of Forum, a public affairs program produced by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and aired on more than 100 PBS affiliates across the U.S.

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