Hell Put to Shame

Hell Put to Shame by Earl Swift

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Hell Put to Shame:

Hell is definitely where they are going.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the Murder Farm Massacre in 1921 Georgia.   

Fact for Non-History People:

From 1889-1918, Black victims made up 93.3% of lynching cases in Georgia.

Fact for History Nerds:

The peonage system is tough to pin down, but it probably affected tens of thousands of people.

My Take on Hell Put to Shame:

Have you ever read a book and find your mind in the wrong century? I found myself, multiple times, thinking, “Man, the 1800s were ridiculous,” only to have to remind myself that the story of Earl Swift’s Hell Put to Shame takes place in the 1920s.

You see, there is a farmer named John Williams who is effectively still using slavery on his land. He uses the peonage system. This means he goes to jail, bails men out who can’t pay fines, and then uses various means to never let them leave either through ensuring the prisoners never pay their bills or he just murders them. Yes, murder. A lot. Luckily, some brave men escape, and we have some courtroom drama!

Besides the excellent court scenes, Swift does an amazing job tackling the peonage system. I get very wary when subtitles of books seem to reference a much bigger topic than what the story is ostensibly about. In this case, Swift definitely explores the peonage system and how it really is American’s second slavery. Also, the author explains the actions of the NAACP around this time to ensure the story is not entirely from a white perspective.

It should be noted that Swift does not shy away from quoting directly from the actual records. Swift has a thoughtful notes section explaining his reasoning for not altering any language. As such, there is repeated use of a racial epithet because… well there is a ton of racists in this story, and they had no shame even in the middle of court. Which was a huge part of the problem! So fair warning, the very bad, hateful word is in here more than a couple times.

Overall, the book was absolutely riveting from beginning to end. Swift not only makes the courtroom scenes fascinating and suspenseful, but his exploration of the peonage system and the NAACP at this time is equally readable. It is simply a must read.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Mariner Books.)


Brutal but an amazing read. Buy it here!

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