Keri Leigh Merritt, "Masterless Men: Poor Whites in the Antebellum South" (Cambridge UP, 2017)


Analyzing land policy, labor, and legal history, Masterless Men: Poor Whites in the Antebellum South (Cambridge University Press, 2017) reveals what happens to excess workers when a capitalist system is predicated on slave labor. With the rising global demand for cotton - and thus, slaves - in the 1840s and 1850s, the need for white laborers in the American South was drastically reduced, creating a large underclass who were unemployed or underemployed. These poor whites could not compete - for jobs or living wages - with profitable slave labor. Though impoverished whites were never subjected to the daily violence and degrading humiliations of racial slavery, they did suffer tangible socio-economic consequences as a result of living in a slave society. The author examines how these 'masterless' men and women threatened the existing Southern hierarchy and ultimately helped push Southern slaveholders toward secession and civil war. Keri Leigh Merritt is an independent scholar from Atlanta, Georgia. She received her B.A. in History and Political Science from Emory University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in History from the University of Georgia. Her research generally focuses on race and class in American history. Merritt's work on poverty and inequality has garnered multiple awards, and she also writes historical pieces for the public, with letters and essays appearing in Aeon, on, and in The New York Times. In addition to Masterless Men, Merritt has a forthcoming co-edited book on southern labor history with University of West Georgia historian Matthew Hild tentatively titled Reviving Southern Labor History: Race, Class, and Power. She is also currently conducting research for two additional book-length projects; the first is on black resistance in the vastly understudied Reconstruction era, and the second project examines the changing role of law enforcement in the mid-nineteenth century south. Masterless Men: Poor Whites in the Antebellum South is her first book.
James P. Stancil II is an educator, multimedia journalist, and writer. He is also the President and CEO of Intellect U Well, Inc. a Houston-area NGO dedicated to increasing the joy of reading and media literacy in young people. He can be reached most easily through his LinkedIn page or at

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