‘On the Unwary and the Weak’: Fighting Peonage in Wartime United States: Connections, Categories, Scales
The focus of Pizzolato’s chapter is two-fold: the problem of the political and cultural representation of a local phenomenon within teleological narratives of modernization as well as the use and construction of local events by actors to impinge on global political projects and policies. Using multiple scales, I attempt here to refocus the question of American peonage, a condition of ‘involuntary service or labour’ widespread in the American South from the late nineteenth century to mid-twentieth century. ‘Following the traces’ where they lead, the author restores the historical complexity of a little known campaign against peonage during the New Deal, which led to the involvement of actors and institutions in different locales, operating at different geographical scales and with different agendas. His intent is also to address the construction of ‘peonage’ as a socio-juridical category in the language and practices of individuals and institutions—an interpretation that requires the investigation of how this term was negotiated by individuals and institutions.
The author would like to thank the research funding bodies that have contributed to the research leading to this chapter: The British Academy and Leverhulme Trust (small research grant); the JFK Institute, Berlin, (research grant); The Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Detroit (Sam Fishman Travel Grant).