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On this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we caught up with historian and author Keri Leigh Merritt out of Atlanta, Georgia. Merritt is the author of both the 2017 book, Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South as well as the new essay, War Happens in Dark Places, Too. Merritt’s work focuses on labor history, slavery, and class tensions in the South, both before and after the civil war and the research work that she is producing, a long with a new wave of historians, is reshaping how we view the Confederacy, its collapse, and also whites supremacy within the United States.
Signing some copies of #MasterlessMen this morning.?
See you in a few hours, Georgia Highlands College! pic.twitter.com/8gFOVCvBlP
— Keri Leigh Merritt, Ph.D. (@KeriLeighMerrit) March 6, 2019
As we cover in this discussion, the Confederacy collapsed because of a variety of factors, but chief among them was the mass desertion of Confederate soldiers as well as the general strike of Black slaves. In looking at this history, we are confronted not only by the shallow false history of the “Lost Cause,” but also the real question of how the present American plantation could also be collapsed by a succession of collective acts of mass refusal.
Moreover, Merritt argues several other points, first and foremost, that the South needed a degree of surveillance, policing, and vigilante violence in order to maintain its racial order, that it resembled a police State where basic freedoms and rights were totally suspended. Also, that in the lead up to the civil war, tensions between poor whites and elites were building, leading to acts of rebellion that at times involved Black slaves. Merritt goes on to argue that even things like mixed-racial relationships were more common than often imagined, pointing to an ongoing thread of anti-colonial resistance throughout Southern history largely ignored.
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We also touch on a variety of other topics, such as the territories in open rebellion to the Confederacy during the Civil War, the film Free State of Jones, the class background of the early KKK, and much more.
More Info: Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South and Keri Leigh Merritt on Twitter