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From Slavery to Free Labor in Louisiana's Sugar Parishes, 1862-1880

Reconstruction in the Cane Fields

  • In Reconstruction in the Cane Fields, John C. Rodrigue examines emancipation and the difficult transition from slavery to free labor in one enclave of the South -- the cane sugar region of southern Louisiana. In contrast to the various forms of sharecropping and tenancy that replaced slavery in the cotton South, wage labor dominated the sugar industry. Rodrigue demonstrates that the special geographical and environmental requirements of sugar production in Louisiana shaped the new labor arrangements. Ultimately, he argues, the particular demands of Louisiana sugar production accorded freedmen formidable bargaining power in the contest with planters over free labor.

    By showing that freedmen, under the proper circumstances, were willing to consent to wage labor and to work routines that strongly resembled those of slavery, Reconstruction in the Cane Fields offers a profound interpretation of how former slaves defined freedom in slavery's immediate aftermath. It will prove essential reading for all students of southern, African American, agricultural, and labor history.

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