Black Belt Slavery: Land, Law, and Labor in the Deep South


ACLS HBCU Faculty Grants


Africana Studies and History


“Black Belt Slavery” examines the role of legal practices in the expansion of slavery and capitalism in three states—Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama—where one third of the US slave population resided in 1860. Recent historians have demonstrated the role of cotton exports, the internal slave trade, technology, and other factors in the region’s growth in the antebellum period. Building on such findings, this study draws on print material and documents from Southern archives to reveal how the law facilitated capital accumulation in the deep South. Looking at law as it was exercised in daily life, “Black Belt Slavery” illuminates how capital grew and endured over time, how it moved across space, how people transformed it into cash, who got to stand at the front of the line when it appeared to be up for grabs, and what novel legal strategies emerged in the region. The book highlights how law, capital, and Southern power relationships operated through wills, daily financial transactions, court cases, and backroom wrangling. The project also illustrates how African Americans in the deep South understood and contested dominant legal meanings and practices. The project thus analyzes the inner workings of wealth, power, and inequality in the Black Belt and how diverse historical and legal actors, including slaveholders, their heirs, free blacks, and the enslaved, interpreted law in a struggle for power in the antebellum South.