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When Slavery Became Illegal Plantation Owners Created Loopholes Until World War II

After slavery was made illegal in the United States, many plantation owners simply ignored it until forced by authorities to free their slaves. While many people are taught that in 1865, Abraham Lincoln decreed that slaves would be freed, white southern plantation owners found a cruel workaround. 

White legislators quickly passed laws allowing plantation owners to use black prisoners as slaves. As a result, thousands of black men and boys were "arrested" for unknown reasons, chain-ganged together, and made to work on the fields. This practice continued until World War II, when plantations needed fewer workers and federal prosecution became stricter. 

A woman (and former slave) named Tempie Cummins gave the Federal Writers' Project in 1939 her personal narrative. Cummins recalled the day she learned slaves were free and slavery was abolished by law.

"The white chillun tries teach me to read and write but I didn' larn much, 'cause I allus workin'. Mother was workin' in the house, and she cooked too. She say she used to hide in the chimney corner and listen to what the white folks say. When freedom was 'clared, marster wouldn' tell 'em, but mother she hear him tellin' mistus that the slaves was free but they didn' know it and he's not gwineter tell 'em till he makes another crop or two. When mother hear that she say she slip out the chimney corner and crack her heels together four times and shouts, 'I's free, I's free.' Then she runs to the field, 'gainst marster's will and tol' all the other slaves and they quit work. Then she run away and in the night she slip into a big ravine near the house and have them bring me to her. Marster, he come out with his gun and shot at mother but she run down the ravine and gits away with me."

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