Cover image for Lay this body down : the 1921 murders of eleven plantation slaves
Lay this body down : the 1921 murders of eleven plantation slaves
Freeman, Gregory A.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chicago : Lawrence Hill Books, [1999]

Physical Description:
xviii, 195 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, facsimiles ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6534.J36 F74 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HV6534.J36 F74 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HV6534.J36 F74 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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The John S. Williams plantation in Georgia was operated largely with the labor of slaves--and this was in 1921, 56 years after the Civil War. Williams was not alone in using "peons," but his reaction to a federal investigation was almost unbelievable: he decided to destroy the evidence. Enlisting the aid of his trusted black farm boss, Clyde Manning, he began methodically killing his slaves. As this true story unfolds, each detail seems more shocking, and surprises continue in the aftermath, with a sensational trial galvanizing the nation and marking a turning point in the treatment of black Americans.

Author Notes

Gregory A. Freeman is the author of Sailors to the End and has written for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution . He lives in Roswell, Georgia.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Fifty years after slavery was believed to have ended in the U.S., John S. Williams, a Georgia plantation owner, was convicted of murdering 11 "slaves" held in peonage on his property. Also convicted was Clyde Manning, the black overseer who had been raised and used by Williams since childhood. Manning, who supplied crucial testimony against Williams, claimed that he was forced to kill most of the men on threat of his own death. The murders were meant to cover the practice of peonage, the forced indefinite labor of black men charged mostly with vagrancy. Peonage was an open secret in the South as late as the 1920s, when the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, precursor to the FBI, began investigating the illegal practice. Freeman, who has written for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, uses newspaper articles and court documents to render a compelling account of the murders, the sensational trial in rural Georgia, and the social mores of the time and the region. And he explores, to chilling effect, the personalities of Williams and Manning. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

Fifty-six years after the end of the Civil War, John Williams, a Georgian plantation owner facing a federal investigation of his use of "peons" (poor blacks bailed out of local jails), decided to kill 11 black men to prevent them from testifying against him. With the help of Clyde Manning, his black overseer, he embarked on a series of cold-blooded murders that resulted in two major trials. Based on extensive newspaper coverage, reports from a federal investigation, and trial testimony, this moving narrative account is arguably the most complete history of this event available. Freeman, a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, concludes that this event helped to define "a complex and crucial, yet almost forgotten, moment in history"Äa moment when, although the South had fulfilled some of the worst assumptions of outsiders, "the citizens of Georgia stood up and declared their limits." Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries.ÄRobert C. Jones, Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Introductionp. xi
Participantsp. xvii
1 "Don't Throw Me Over"p. 1
2 "When I First Remember Myself, I Was in Jasper County"p. 9
3 "The River Was Full of Dead Negroes"p. 21
4 "You Lying Scoundrel, You"p. 35
5 "I Hate to Do It"p. 41
6 "I'll Go, Mr. Johnny"p. 49
7 "Don't Make No Miss Lick"p. 57
8 "I Believe Clyde Can Tell You All About It"p. 65
9 "Things Were Sort of Bad on the Williams Place"p. 85
10 "He Wanted to Look Good Because He Was Going Home"p. 101
11 "Before God, I Am as Innocent as a Man Can Be"p. 121
12 "This Is the Spirit of Justice in Georgia"p. 139
13 "There Was Fear Among the Hands"p. 149
14 "Stand Up, Clyde"p. 161
Epiloguep. 177
Conclusionp. 179
Notesp. 185