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Beneath the master class: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South


I'm a Southerner, I've lived in the Deep South my entire life, I know it very well. The irony of the lauding of the Confederacy is that you see it the most in areas where I know as a historian were heavily Union or Anti-Confederate, and a lot of the people waving Confederate flags or protesting monuments being taken down are actually descendants of people who were Unionist or Anti-Confederate.

Historian Keri Leigh Merritt examines the lives and labor of landless Whites in the Antebellum Deep South - as an impoverished underclass situated outside the immediate bounds of chattel slavery, but under a brutal, stratified, undemocratic regime with the violence and exploitation of slavery at its heart and in everything it touched.

Keri Leigh is author of Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South from Cambridge University Press.

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Keri Leigh Merritt

Keri Leigh Merritt is a historian, editor and an independent scholar. She earned her B.A. from Emory University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Georgia. Her first book, Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South (Cambridge University Press, 2017), won both the Bennett Wall Award from the Southern Historical Association, honoring the best book in Southern economic or business history published in the previous two years, as well as the President’s Book Award from the Social Science History Association.

Merritt is also co-editor, with Matthew Hild, of Reconsidering Southern Labor History: Race, Class, and Power (University Press of Florida, 2018), which won the 2019 Best Book Award from the UALE (United Association for Labor Education). She is currently working on two book-length projects for trade presses. Merritt also writes for the public, and has had letters and essays published in a variety of outlets. Most recently she released a self-narrated audiobook version of Masterless Men, and launched her history-based YouTube Channel “Merrittocracy.”


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