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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 1999
After reading the other reviews of "Lay This Body Down : The 1921 Murders of Eleven Plantation Slaves", I noticed not one mentioned the Notes at the end. I found Freeman's extensive documention one of the most important aspects of the book. Finally, the author of a "true story" backs up his facts with references! In addition to providing sources, many of the Notes introduce relevant information not included in the body of the book.
I highly recommend "Lay This Body Down..." to anyone interested in "true crime", southern history, or just a good read. And don't forget the Notes!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 1999
Lay This Body Down provides an engrossing look at a terrible act from twentieth century Georgia history that chills the reader to the bone. It is the fact that these events actually occurred that makes the story so powerful. Freeman's portrayal totally involves the reader so that he feels as if he were there. Bravo! I can't wait for Freeman's next book, whatever the topic.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 1999
By strategically weaving quotes from the participants, Mr. Freeman creates a spectacularly vivid narrative that makes the reader acutely aware of mankind's seemingly timeless inhumanity and the need for ongoing vigilance to ensure that other inhumanities are recognized and acted against. In telling us of the life and actions of Williams and Manning, the author has rescued, from the obscurity of infrequently read local history books and forgotten historical footnotes, a poignant story of human cruelty in an early 1920's small Georgia town. This particular form of cruelty existed within an abusive system known technically as peonage - slave labor.
Unlike with the Jewish Holocaust of WWII, the victims of the Soviet Gulag, the British extermination of the Australian aborigine or other similar atrocities where the powerful inflict massive suffering for self-serving reasons, this story's immediate victims number just eleven. However, as in the retelling of these better known and larger mass killings from the twentieth century, this focused narrative exposes how an abusive system of terror can be used to effectively subjugate and mercilessly kill at will.
As briefly outlined in "King Leopold's Ghost," a book by Adam Horchschild on the greed and terror found in Colonial Africa, three keys elements must exist for a system of terror like peonage to thrive. First, the functionary of the terror must see the victim(s) as less than human. Second, the act of terror must become part of the community - everyone must covertly or overtly participate in, benefit from and, hence, sanction the system. Third, in order for the functionaries to become used to the inhumanity, there must be a symbolic distance established between the official and the physical act of terror. All of these aspects of systematic terror are unearthed in "Lay this Body Down."
Although individually horrific and tragic, the murders committed by Williams and Manning, and the spotlight these discovered murders placed on the system of terror which allowed these murders to be contemplated and executed, assisted in breaking peonage in the south. The book should be read; its story remembered; its lessons used as a graphic touchstone from which institutionalized evil in all its forms can be identified and suppressed.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2003
Simply unbelievable! This book is based on court transcribed events and if it had not been for that simple fact, the atrocities found within the pages of Lay This Body Down would be incomprehensible. This fact based accounting of the 1921 murders of 11 plantation slaves in Newton and Jasper Counties, Georgia is horrific but sadly true. Yes you read correctly, the year is 1921, not during the officially recognized time of slavery. Slavery was legally over but a new system was rearing its head in the south - peonage. Peonage was a practice given prominence by southern plantation owners to employ workers (read enslave) for cheap or at no cost. If a Negro owed a debt and was unable to pay the debt he would be thrown in prison. With little to no hope of paying his fine -sometimes in amounts as low as a few dollars- he would sit in prison until... Wealthy landowners would visit the prisons and pay these menial fines and the person would be released to this landowner to repay the debt. It could and often did take a lifetime for this person to pay of the debt so they would be Peon's or Slaves to this person. Such is the case of the people found on the John S. Williams Plantation. Mr. Williams and his wife and 12 children occupied land in Newton County, Covington, Georgia. His older boys had plots of adjacent land and too employed peons. The Federal Bureau of Investigation from the Atlanta office had been called in to look at cases of Peonage - which was illegal, and their investigation lead to the Williams Plantation. Mr. Williams not being immediately present on the day the FBI came to call, found these revenuers interviewing his hired hand and overseer, a Negro named Clyde Manning. Understandably nervous and frightened Mr. Manning answered questions posed to him truthfully but they conflicted with Mr. Williams accounting. Now it was Mr. Williams' turn to become nervous and his remedy was to murder those Negroes who posed a threat to his families way of life. A cunning man, Mr. Williams had Mr. Manning conduct the murders. In an unprecedented decision, Mr. Williams was found guilty of murder based on the testimony of a black man and from 1921 to 1966 this did not happen again in a Georgia Court Room. Mr. Manning was also found guilty but both men were spared the death penalty.
These shocking and horrific crimes were well documented by the author, Gregory A. Freeman. He did a wonderful job of backing up this true tale with documented facts, figures and pictures. It's sad that this story had to be told but it illustrates that the south wasn't used to the idea, some 56 years after slavery- that all men are created equal. It is sad that Mr. Manning felt the need to comply with Mr. Williams wishes to kill his own people for fear of his own life and that of his family. Sadly not a lot of Georgians know about this case and I'm trying to determine if it is because this is just one of many cases and in the telling of family history this was commonplace. Read this book not to anger yourself but to get a greater understanding of the true side of history.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 1999
Lay This Body Down is a great book and one which flows quickly and easily. I found myself having trouble putting the book down. Williams is the embodiment of the plantation farmer during the early 20s. Manning is used as a wonderful vehicle for the reader to see what it was like through a "slave's" eyes. I was able to place myself right next to Manning's side throughout the book and could feel the horror/terror that he felt. This is a must read for anyone who has any interest in the history of the south and the way blacks were treated well after slavery was abolished.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2000
LAY THIS BODY DOWN was a small portrait of the double standards that existed among those who owned slaves. Such a "family man" as John Williams could inspire fear, hatred, and murder in his slaves and his sons. He was even a murderer himself. Yet, he could be kind to his wife and daughter. I read the book, not because I enjoyed it, but because it is a reminder of the evils inherent in the abuse of other people and other races. If we are not reminded, it will be repeated. John Williams was evil incarnate.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 1999
After reading this book (due to the contrast in opinions I'm seeing here) I did some research of my own and found Freeman to be CORRECT about the history of Covington, GA. After reading this book I found some old newspaper articles which backed up the story and erased any reservations (I still had) that the book was a mixture of fiction and fact. It was eerie reading the accounts for the first time in the book. But, what really sent the hair standing on the back of my neck was seeing the same accounts in the newspaper articles. Freeman is able to give scope and a framework to use as window for viewing our past. Sad as it is... Freeman's correct.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2002
This book is one of the most involving reads I ever had, more so cause this is based on concrete facts and the author clearly gives the sources, mentions that the statements are either quoted in toto from courtroom notes or from the newspapers. The author must be applauded for writing on such a sensitive topic and not trying to sensasionalize one side of the argument or the other.
I wouldn't recommend it as light reading, this should be read with a view to understand what went on in the southern states before and/or after the great emancipation. It was tremendously helpful to me to understand the varying treatment of the slaves in different plantations, frankly I was confused before by the contradictory treatment of this topic in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and 'Gone with the wind'
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2000
I felt the fear coming out in Freeman's 'Lay This Body Down'. This true story gives you an idea of what blacks had to endure in the south before the civil rights movement began. It's a chilling account of how 11 plantation slaves were brutally murdered by the hand of one of their own and the white plantation owner. It confirms through the fact of peonage-slave labor, and brutal punishment, just how unjust the south was in the early part of the 20th century. There are gruesome details that left me a bit uneasy, but....justice does prevail. As unsettling as this true story may be, it is a subject that should be recognized and remembered.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 1999
I am convinced that the "reader from Oct.4," who could not leave anymore information than just "reader" surely did not take the time to get past the title. "Lay this Body Down" is a fabulous read. It brings forth a bit of history that has not had the attention that it should have. Freeman portrays this event in a way that brings you right into Jasper County, GA. The hair stands up on the back of your neck with the descriptions of the horrorable murders. The trial is unbelievable. It is hard to believe that these events had happened within only the last eighty years. If you like U.S. history, this is a must.
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